Genre: Crime, Drama, Biography, Comedy
Director: Spike Lee
based on the novel by Ron Stallworth
Music: Terence Blanchard
Cinematography: Chayse Irvin
John David Washington
Paul Walter Hauser
Robert John Burke
Isiah Whitlock Jr.
Rumor says that African-American avant gardist Spike Lee has got his mojo back with his latest offering, BLACKKKLANSMAN won Grand Pix in Cannes earlier, and currently is in contention for the impending Oscar season, that does sound intriguing.
An outrageous black-man-infiltrating-Ku-Klux-Klan plot is actually based on the real life story of Ron Stallworth (again, reality is stranger than fiction), the first black cop in the Colorado Springs police department in the late 70s (however, Lee tweaks the time-line to 1972 for more zeitgeist inclusion), an Afro-sporting Stallworth (played by John David Washington, the scion of Mr. Denzel Washington, exhibits fairly good leading man potential), is caught between the pursuit of his American Dream, viz., becoming a cop and do the right thing, and the Black Power movement inflamed by police brutality, which is personally exemplified by his girlfriend Patrice Dumas (SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING alumna Laura Harrier), the president of the black student union in Colorado College, to whom he has to hide his real vocation, until the cat gets out of the bag inevitably.
Meantime, the large chunk of the running time is dedicated to Ron’s infiltrating escapade, masquerading as a radical white man on the phone to feign interest in joining the Klan (yes, there is an advertisement in the newspaper for recruitment and Ron uses his real name to apply, true story!), Walter Breachway (Eggold), the president of the local chapter, rises to the bait and demands to meet Ron in person (what makes Ron stand out among all the other applicants, just by dint of blustering about his hatred about black people? or, on a second thought, perhaps there isn’t enough candidates to begin with), who is in the physical form of Ron’s white, Jewish colleague, detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver, outstandingly laid-back, especially when danger is hanging over his head, and intuitively congenial, more fingers are crossed for him than Ron himself), and the resultant undercover derring-do takes a threadbare route toying with internal suspicion, more racist trash-talk, police bad apple, an initiation ceremony (with the real Ron posited at the scene under a very thin pretense) and finally, a foiled bomb assassination, with poetic justice ironically blowing up plumb near the malefactors.
If the plot isn’t that coruscating to leave any salient aftertaste (minus the fanatical craziness evoked by Finnish actor Jasper Pääkkönen as a dye-in-the-wool Klan member), the film does keep it engrossing and entertaining through Lee’s mischievous vibes, retro-flair and offhand levity, predominantly in Ron’s telephone exchange with the Grand Wizard of the Klan, David Duke (Topher Grace, goes as bland as possible in a mug’s game), whose theory about accent differential between white and black folks may fall on deaf ears of anyone whose mother tongue is not English, but it does make one feel good to see a sanctimonious figure being mocked, however palliative it is.
On top of all the run-and-gun hoopla, Lee predictably yet boldly instills his political agenda every now and then, from a prologue opening by Alec Baldwin as a white supremacist doctor, to two keynote black speakers played by Corey Hawkins and Harry Belafonte (one rousing, one harrowing, equally brilliant cameos), after his trademark gliding shot of our gun-holding pair Ron and Patrice, Lee tops off the film with appalling footage of contemporary issues, to remind us that it is not a laughing matter in realty and one cannot over-express the enormity of such atrocity, a return to form, yes, but is Spike Lee back at the top of his games? You mileage may vary.
referential entries: Lee’s INSIDE MAN (2006, 6.4/10), 25th HOUR (2002, 7.4/10).