There have been many deservedly positive reviews for Spike Lee’s latest film, heralding BlacKkKlansman as his return to glory. The only thing wrong with that statement is that it infers that Lee ever left in the first place. Sure, his last few films haven’t received the monetary or critical praise that we’re used to from him, you wouldn’t rank them among his best, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Even when Spike Lee stumbles and falls, he still hits the ground hard enough to shake you. I’ll take any lacking film from Spike Lee over a well polished film from just about anyone else anyday. Flaws in most films hold them back, Spike Lee’s flaws are gripping and riveting. Spike Lee only makes films that matter. BlacKkKlansman is not without its gripping in riveting flaws, but it also features sequences and images that will just knock you out of your seat with their power.
In 1979, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first African-American officer in the Colorado Springs police department, and starts an undercover investigation into the local KKK chapter by posing as a white man over the phone, with his white partner (Adam Driver) posing as him in public, even communicating directly with KKK grand wizard David Duke (Topher Grace).
There is something beautiful about Lee, who has directed Denzel Washington in multiple classic films, directing Denzel’s son in his first lead role. I like watching John David Washington. I’ve enjoyed him for 3 seasons and counting on Ballers as Ricky Jerret. He’s inherited his father’s natural magnetism and charisma. He’s going to go far. I also always like watching Adam Driver, who contributes solid work as always here. Topher Grace kind of plays Duke as this oblivious idiot, because he is, and it’s fun to watch.
My only real notable complaint is that you never really get to know Ron Stallworth and who he is. At the most, you get an overview of his internal struggles and what drives him. I really wanted to know more about him. There are points where it feels like either the script or the edit needed another pass or two, certain scenes feel aimless and like they have little impact on the film.
But on the other hand, Lee crafts sequences and imagery that burn at you with righteous fury. Characters speak of rhetoric identical to Trump’s. The final sequences of the film are sobering self-reflections on where America is right now, and more frighteningly, where it has always been. A woman in my row was weeping as the credits rolled. Such is the power of Spike Lee. One of America’s great filmmakers returns to deliver a scathing work of immediacy that only he could deliver. We haven’t gotten many opportunities to see Lee’s work in the theaters recently, we need to make sure we take advantage of this film’s wide release.