By Mario Ricciardi
Comedy and drama. Talking and listening. Style and substance. Two different sides of the same coin. Opposed yet irrelevant to existence without each other. When put together, the pair shines brightest. Spike Lee’s latest “joint” strikes a master’s balance between these pairs in his latest film, “The BlacKkKlansman.”
The seasoned director’s best film in years, “The BlacKkKlansman” tells a story about the past that is very much relevant today. One part dramatization, one part history lesson, Lee is a preacher showing the audience just how cut and dried his cause is. Driving his message home by using the film to reinforce that activism is humanity’s cry for change.
“The BlacKkKlansman” is the wild true story of American hero Ron Stallworth (John David Washington). Stallworth, the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department, is determined to make a name for himself.
Facing racism within the department, Stallworth bravely chooses a uniquely dangerous mission to prove himself: infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. Joined by Officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), the two go undercover to investigate and expose one of America’s most repulsive organizations.
Lee shoots the movie like a director fresh out of film school. The 61-year-old director fills just about every shot with style to balance the subtext of the politically charged film. He mixes dark comedic moments with thought-provoking symbolism.
He says what needs to be said, sometimes yells it, but then juxtaposes it with moments of reflection. “The BlacKkKlansman” is a film about finding balance where balance is due. This idea reaches its climax in Spike Lee’s refined voice-for-change directing a young cast.
John David Washington’s Ron Stallworth is reserved and honest in situations nearly impossible to be. Washington turns in a quiet performance, bold enough to carry the slick-looking film forward, stealing enough attention from the set decoration and costumes.
Adam Driver’s Flip is a catalyst for Washington’s performance, playing a Jewish cop who escapes racism because of his skin color, but is quietly disturbed by it.
The other true star of the film is Laura Harrier’s Patrice Dumas. Most of the middle of the film gets its momentum from the strength Harrier gives to her character, the leader of a college’s black student union. Lastly, Topher Grace’s near-perfect performance as David Duke, clearly started with the casting of Topher Grace as David Duke. In a role that is almost cameo, Grace plays the character with a dopey mix of hate, ignorance and humor.
In “The BlacKkKlansman,” characters represent a right, a wrong and a middle ground intermixing to drive home the overarching message. It is easy to make the KKK look bad, but the real hurdle is making the good look good in such divisive times.
Lee’s solution? Just tell it like it is. “Power to all the people,” one of the film’s mantras is powerfully captured by characterization within the film.
Whether good people or bad people, all the groups in the film and its people hold certain amounts of power. The ones who win out are rightfully the ones looking to share the power with others.
“The BlacKkKlansman” tells a clear story with complex politics by striking near perfect balance.
???? (4/5 Penguins)