Lee makes comeback with ‘BlacKkKlansman’



Directed by Spike Lee, "BlacKkKlansman' premiered on Aug. 10, 2018. The movie features John David Washington as Detective Ron Stallworth and Adam Driver as Detective Flip Zimmerman.


Spike Lee has always been an outspoken director when it comes to civil rights. His no-holds-barred mentality put him on the map in 1989 with “Do the Right Thing,” and again in 1992  for his epic biopic “Malcolm X.” However, the last decade has been rough for Lee, as his films have been of lower quality and struggled to click with the mainstream movie-going crowd. Fortunately for Lee and moviegoers, his new film, “BlacKkKlansman,” is a return to form as he delivers a thrilling crowd-pleaser that isn’t afraid to address racial issues in American society.

The film takes place in 1979 Colorado Springs, following the real-life story of Ron Stallworth, who has just become the first black police officer in town. His hiring is met with hostility from the white officers, mostly ones who like to create trouble for the fun of it.

As a hot-headed rookie looking to make his mark and bring a little change, Stallworth decides to go after the local Ku Klux Klan chapter. Luckily for him, the Klan runs full ads in the paper to draw in recruits.

Ron picks up the phone and disguises his voice to sound like a white man in order to get information. His disguise works and he sets up a meeting with a recruiter. Obviously, Ron himself won’t be able to go, so he sends white officer Flip Zimmerman to masquerade as his white self.

From this point on, the story follows Ron and Flip running a tag team operation as they try to bring down one of the most hate-filled groups in America.

Directing: 4/5

Over the past decade, we’ve gotten so used to Lee being overly loud and thunderous that it now feels a bit weird to see him showing some restraint when it comes to the volume of his message. He also paces the film really well for its 135-minute runtime. Action, comedy and drama are interspersed, allowing the film to flow with great energy and rhythm.

Although Lee shows some restraint, he doesn’t fully commit. At times, he falls back into his old over-the-top habits. In one such moment at the film’s beginning, we are shown a fictional KKK propaganda film that serves no real purpose other than to make you hear endless racial expletives.

Writing: 3/5

For a script that has four credited writers, one of which is Lee, the writing never feels fragmented. Right off the bat, the biggest compliment to the script is that it never is too overt with its message. We hear a lot about racism in America, but it never feels overexerted. 

One thing that the writers struggle to do is blend together two different plots. We have the main investigation plot with Ron and Flip, but we’re also given a smaller romantic subplot between Ron and Patrice, an activist leader for black rights. Even though their romance does serve an important purpose of highlighting racial tension in America, at times it feels shoehorned in and out of place.

Another minor negative thing that comes up periodically throughout is the writing for the KKK characters. Each one of them is one-note and are treated as cartoonish-ly evil. It makes them entertaining to watch, but it also makes it hard to take them seriously when real life or death stakes are presented.

Acting: 5/5

The best part of the film is its characters and the actors. John David Washington, son of frequent Spike Lee collaborator Denzel Washington, gives one of the best leading performances of the year (so far). Just like his father, the younger Washington carries a sort of charisma that makes his character feel authentic. He realizes his role is quite serious, but he also takes plenty of time to have fun with his character. It makes his performance very entertaining to watch, especially when he’s playing “White Ron” over the phone.

Adam Driver does exceptional supporting work as Flip. Just like Washington, Driver takes things seriously but also partakes in the fun every once in a while. He also gives his character a lot of depth: a lapsed Jew beginning to wrestle with his religious identity.

Lastly, Topher Grace of “That ‘70s Show” fame is great as infamous real-life Klan leader David Duke. Grace brings a weasellike attitude to his demented character and shares great chemistry with Washington as they engage with each other over the phone from time to time.

Overall: 4/5

Just like last year’s breakout hit “Get Out,” “BlacKkKlansman” is another occurrence where a film is both entertaining and able to send a powerful message about the issue of racism in America. Whether it be Spike Lee’s powerful directing or the captivating performances, there’s a lot to like in one of the year’s best films so far.