Spike Lee/ USA/ 2018/ 135 mins
@Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 7 Sep 2018
Spike Lee is a director known for making films with a high level of social relevance, and his latest effort BlacKkKlansman is certainly no exception, resulting in what may be one of the director’s best works in recent years. BlacKkKlansman tells the story of Ron Stallworth, the first Black detective in Colorado Springs, who in 1979 (1972 in the film) began an undercover investigation into the local chapter of the KKK, exposing white supremacists in the US military and preventing cross burnings in the process. While some aspects of the film are fictionalised, there are several horrifying moments in the film which are true (although one cannot help but wish they weren’t) and it is through this blend of outright horror and smartly-delivered comedy that BlacKkKlansman excels.
Part of this success simply comes from the strength of its cast. John David Washington gives an incredibly strong performance as Stallworth, excellently capturing the internal struggle between his duty as a detective and his loyalty to his fellow African-Americans. Moreover he and Adam Driver ooze chemistry together, with Driver providing an excellent portrayal of Flip Zimmerman, the Jewish detective who impersonated Stallworth during face to face encounters with the Klan, who must also face his own demons, with every interaction between the pair a joy to watch.
On the whole the film is an incredibly sleek endeavour. It permeates a near-perfect 1970’s aesthetic complete with genre typical 70’s-thriller guitar riffs, grainy changes in film, and discussions about the merits and shortcomings of Blaxploitation films such as Shaft and Coffy. At the same time, it is also highly relevant to the world we live in today. Klansmen discuss their desire to once again make America great, and Stallworth is berated for believing that someone who peddles hatred in such a charismatic fashion as David Duke -the national director of the KKK- could ever be elected to political office. Lee even smartly features archive footage from last year’s Charlottesville riots in order to prove that the issues presented are still prevalent today as they were 40 years ago. All of this results in a film containing highly poignant message that pervades throughout the entire film.
Such a message is to be expected considering that Stallworth’s story was first brought to Lee’s attention by Get Out director Jordan Peele. As such, the social commentary that resonates throughout BlacKkKlansman is not dissimilar, ultimately adding further layers to what is already a highly enjoyable crime-comedy and one of Lee’s best works.