Spike Lee uses film as a mirror to show you history’s dreadful face, while at the same time illuminating how that same history has made you what you are. With BLACKkKLANSMAN, Spike serves up the true story of Ron Stallworth, a black Colorado police officer that went undercover and infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, first over the phone and then in person with the help of a fellow white officer (played by Adam Driver). The story seems so outlandish that Spike himself needs to remind you that, yes, this indeed happened.
BLACKkKLANSMAN gets right into with Ron Stallworth (played by an exceptional John David Washington) interviewing to be an officer on the Colorado police force, the first black officer on the Colorado police force to be exact. And after quickly moving from the file room to “intelligence”, Stallworth begins forming his investigation on the Klan. This story gets complicated when he meets his love interest Patrice (played by Laura Harrier), who is president of the black student union and distrustful of police in general.
As a huge Spike Lee fan I can admit that his last few films have not been his best work, or close to it for that matter, but BLACKkKLANSMAN is indeed a return to form for Spike. With a script that has four writers credited, Lee being the last to be listed, it would seem to me that this film benefits from Spike not getting in his own way. This results in a very controlled exercise for Lee, of course his style is still there but the ego is absent. Often times in Spike Lee films characters find themselves delivering dialogue that sounds as if Spike is talking at you. His presence is felt throughout all of his films and that is exactly what leads to their demise at times, while at other times that’s what makes them successful. BLACKkKLANSMAN however, is its own vehicle.
I alluded to the pacing earlier, but it worth emphasizing how nice and tight this film is. The midsection could have easily sagged and I get the feeling they could’ve really stretched this thing out, as Lee tends to do – but once again there are 4 credited writers, and not a single second in this film is wasted. John David Washington and Adam Driver’s on screen chemistry is electric and they turn what could’ve been the greatest buddy-cop movie ever into a meaningful exploration of two men realizing the ties that bind them country full of social barriers keeping them apart. And I would be remiss if I did not mention Topher Grace’s perfectly slimy portrayal of David Duke, the Klans national director who is in the midst of bringing them to the mainstream.
If BLACKkKLANSMAN tells us anything, it’s that Spike Lee is still a very necessary voice in American filmmaking. There are few filmmakers that could take a film stuffed with social commentary, high drama, and comedic beats, and bring it all home with a unique style and perspective like Spike Lee. And while this film takes place in the 1970s, you know Spike cannot tell you this story without giving you urgent reminders as to why this film matters today. With an ending that’s sure to have people talking, BLACKkKLANSMAN is a film you cannot miss.