by Alan Yudman
I have read plenty of reviews that BLACKKKLANSMAN is the triumphant return of Spike Lee. Where did he go? Nowhere. He was here all the time producing, directing, going to Knicks games. You know.. being Spike Lee.
Maybe those critics say that because this is a shocking return to movies like DO THE RIGHT THING.. funny, dramatic and insightful films that wear their point right there on their sleeves. If that’s what these critics are saying, then ok, I get it.
BLACKKKLANSMAN is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, the first African-American on the Colorado Springs, Colorado police force. He winds up infiltrating the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan with the help of a white, Jewish detective named Flip Zimmerman.
This is the early 1970’s.. so Ron has to deal with all kinds of racism… external and within the police force (Fredrick Weller turns in an underrated performance as the most racist cop you may ever see). In his first assignment, Ron has to infiltrate a speech by Kwame Ture (expertly played by Corey Hawkins). In a movie filled with powerful scenes, this is one of the most beautifully shot. Ture is speaking about revolution and the beauty of Black people. Lee chooses not focus much on Ture, instead on the audience in a series of close-ups that simply support Ture’s thesis. It is quite moving and one of the best things I’ve seen on film this year.
The performances in general are fantastic. John David Washington (you may know his dad Denzel) is solid as Ron Stallworth. Adam Driver plays Flip.. has Driver ever turned a performance could be considered average? I can’t think of one. He is one of the most consistently outstanding actors working right now.
The movie is bookended by two scenes. One is Alec Baldwin as a racist Klan leader trying to record a filmed message for his followers. He stumbles and misspeaks throughout the whole thing. Not sure of the intent. Maybe to portray these guys as buffoons.
The end is a montage of video and photos from the deadly 2017 protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. I get what Lee is trying to do. Just because Ron is successful in busting the Klan in Colorado, doesn’t mean it is the end of racism. In fact naked racism is seemingly more virulent than ever. It is a shocking, gut punch ending and completely effective.
It Spike Lee in fact did go anywhere (spoiler alert.. he didn’t) then I for one am glad this Spike Lee is back.
(Oh spoiler alert.. I lived in Colorado Springs for a year. The scenes in the city are not Colorado Springs. Not close. But that’s just my little pet peeve.)