Based on a true story (or, as the opening credits put it, some “fo’ real shit”), Spike Lee’s new joint BlacKkKlansman sees an African- American cop infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan in 1970s Colorado. A period piece? Yes, but its Black Power rallies, N-bombs and burning crucifixes are primed to detonate in Trump’s America. It is, naturally, a comedy.
Lee does well to embrace the farcical nature of the situation. How else to approach the tale of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington – Denzel’s son), the first black cop on the Colorado Springs force, who calls up his local chapter of the Klan claiming allegiance?
Invited to meet with good ol’ boys Walter (Ryan Egghold), Felix (Jasper Pääkkönen) and Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser), Ron sends his partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) in his place. Together, the two cops fashion a bigot who rises in the ranks until he’s a trusted confidante to Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace).
It’s combustible material, sparked by Lee’s righteous anger. Any thoughts that the filmmaker might have mellowed with age are blown away as white supremacists talk of making America great again. Cut to documentary footage of the far-right violence in Charlottesville, and Trump’s insistence there were “some very fine people” on both sides. It ain’t subtle – but then subtlety doesn’t go so far in this age of hectoring and lying.
Also none-too-subtle is Ron dating Patrice (Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Laura Harrier), a student union president who invites a Black Panther speaker to the college to give an address. The chemistry between Ron and Patrice is strong but the romantic subplot’s purpose is really to allow for discussions as to whether change is best implemented from within the system or through aggressive, revolutionary action? But these are niggles, not deal-breakers.
Following on from Lee’s energised Chi-Raq and update of She’s Gotta Have It, BlacKkKlansman proves the director is still firing on all cylinders. It’s furious, relevant and funny as hell, weaving politics into a package that’s part satire, part blaxploitation-flick and part cop thriller. The screen throbs with suspense as Ron fabricates his backstory and wears a wire in life-and-death situations. Urgent cross-cutting between climactic set-pieces, meanwhile, makes for a furious finale.
Add in some split screens, disco, big collars and even bigger hair – and you have an accessible picture by Lee, as well as his best work for more than a decade.
- Release date: Out now (US)/August 24, 2018 (UK)
- Certificate: R (US)/15 (UK)
- Running time: 135 mins