OUT 16 AUGUST RATED MA15+ 135 MINS
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.