Empire (Australasia) - - Contents - JAMES JEN­NINGS

Spike Lee presents the cin­e­matic equiv­a­lent of throw­ing a trash can through a win­dow with his ex­cel­lent lat­est.

DIREC­TOR Spike Lee STAR­RING John David Wash­ing­ton, Adam Driver, Laura Har­rier, Ryan Eg­gold

PLOT African Amer­i­can un­der­cover de­tec­tive Ron Stall­worth (Wash­ing­ton) at­tempts to in­fil­trate the Ku Klux Klan by pos­ing on the phone as a racist white man, his Jewish work col­league Flip Zim­mer­man (Driver) play­ing “Ron” dur­ing in­creas­ingly risky meet­ings with the KKK. AS OVER THE TOP as the dra­matic con­ceit that drives Blackkklansman may ap­pear to be — that be­ing an African Amer­i­can un­der­cover de­tec­tive be­com­ing wel­comed into the Ku Klux Klan with open arms via his pos­ing as a racist white man on the tele­phone — this is, as direc­tor Spike Lee high­lights at the com­mence­ment of the film via sub­ti­tle, “Some fo’ real shit.” Based on re­tired po­lice de­tec­tive Ron Stall­worth’s 2014 book Black Klans­man (which de­tailed his ex­ploits in­fil­trat­ing the KKK in late-’70s Colorado Springs), Blackkklansman — and the cur­rent go­ings on in the White House, which the film touches upon to­ward the end — re­ally does prove the old adage true: truth is stranger than fiction.

As Lee un­flinch­ingly dis­plays, it can also be ugly as hell. At the cen­tre of this ug­li­ness is John David Wash­ing­ton’s un­flap­pable, dig­ni­fied and de­ter­mined Ron Stall­worth: a moral man able to hold his head high re­gard­less of the bla­tant racism reg­u­larly di­rected at him by fel­low (white) po­lice of­fi­cers not afraid to let him know that he’s un­wel­come at his place of work. Com­pound­ing his man-out-of-place sta­tus even fur­ther is the un­der­cover in­ves­ti­ga­tion he chooses to pur­sue — in­fil­trat­ing the Ku Klux Klan — and his blos­som­ing ro­mance with pro-black / anti-cop ac­tivist Pa­trice (Laura Har­rier), whom he un­der­stand­ably doesn’t want to dis­cover his oc­cu­pa­tion.

Although Ron boldly gains the trust of the KKK via phone while on the job, it’s (non-prac­tic­ing) Jewish de­tec­tive Flip Zim­mer­man (Driver) who is placed in equally hot wa­ter: as the pub­lic face of “Ron”, it’s his job to work his way into the KKK ranks by meet­ing with mem­bers Wal­ter (Ryan Eg­gold) and off­sider Felix (Jasper Pääkkö­nen), a vi­o­lent psy­chopath sus­pi­cious of Flip from the out­set.

Although Lee milks ev­ery ounce of ten­sion pos­si­ble from the set-up, he also gives Blackkklansman the con­fi­dent swag­ger of a blax­ploita­tion film: Ron may be vic­timised, but he’s no vic­tim.

The sub­ject mat­ter may be se­ri­ous — there’s a jaw-drop­ping scene in­volv­ing Harry Be­la­fonte re­count­ing an hor­rific hate crime he wit­nessed — but Lee delves into how right­eous anger can some­times give way to a sense of grim be­muse­ment. As such, there’s a strain of hu­mour that runs through the film that’s happy to laugh at the ab­sur­dity of it all: at one point there’s a call be­tween an I-can’t-be­lievethis-is-hap­pen­ing Ron and Grand Wiz­ard David Duke (To­pher Grace), the lat­ter promis­ing to per­son­ally see to the speedy ap­proval of Ron’s KKK ap­pli­ca­tion.

Lee doesn’t al­ways strike the right tonal bal­ance be­tween the hu­mour and the har­row­ing mo­ments, but it mat­ters not — this is eas­ily his most vi­tal and flat-out en­ter­tain­ing film in years. And thanks to footage of Trump and the 2017 Unite The Right rally shown dur­ing the coda, he saves the big­gest gut-punch for last: yes, this shit ac­tu­ally hap­pened — and yes, this shit is still ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing.

VERDICT A po­tent mix that mines laughs and lac­er­at­ing truths from sub­ject mat­ter sadly as timely as ever, Blackkklansman is an in­cen­di­ary must-see.

Ron (John David Wash­ing­ton) and Pa­trice (Laura Har­rier) fight the power.

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