BlacKkKlansman (2018) ☆☆☆1/2 (3.5/4): Based on an unbelievably outrageous true story

Spike Lee’s latest film “BlacKkKlansman” intends to deliver an urgent social message, and it did its job well in a way both entertaining and galvanizing. While it tickles us a lot via a cheerfully outrageous mix of satire and police procedural, the movie also sharply points out social issues still quite relevant in the American society even at this point, and there are a number of powerful moments which urges us to be more alert to what has been going on in the American society during recent years.

As boldly stated in the beginning, the movie is inspired by the incredible real-life story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), who worked as a police detective in Colorado Springs, Colorado during the 1970s. During the job interview scene early in the film, Chief Bridges (Robert John Burke) warns Stallworth in advance that he has to be constantly exemplar as the first African-American detective in the Colorado Springs police department, and Stallworth is willing to face that big challenge, but he soon finds himself frequently struggling inside the system. Stuck in a storage room for police evidences, he often has to deal with the blatant racist attitude of other police officers, and he cannot help but feel suffocated and frustrated.

Fortunately, Chief Bridges subsequently orders Stallworth to carry out an undercover mission involved with an African American activist named Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins), who is also known as Kwame Ture and is about to give a public speech as requested by the black student union at Colorado College. To Stallworth, Ture initially seems to be a mere radical to be monitored, but, as listening to Ture’s passionate speech along with many other African American students, he comes to be more serious about his racial identity, and he also comes to befriend a young African American woman named Patrice Duma (Laura Harrier), who is incidentally the president of the black student union at Colorado College.

Shortly after he reports on what he observed from Ture and his audiences, Stallworth is transferred to the intelligence department, and he comes to handle a case involved with the local Ku Klux Klan (KKK) chapter by coincidence. While reading a local newspaper, he happens to spot an advertisement from the local KKK chapter, and then he calls the local KKK chapter while presenting himself as your average angry racist white guy. To the surprise of Stallworth and his colleagues including Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), he is promptly allowed to join the Klan, but there is one glaring problem. He is supposed to meet a bunch of KKK members, and meeting these racist guys in person is certainly out of question for him.

And that is how Zimmerman becomes Stallworth’s white alter ego. While naturally reluctant to follow Stallworth’s rather preposterous plan at first, Zimmerman agrees to be Stallworth’s white alter ego, and we are accordingly served with a humorous scene where he tries to imitate Stallworth’s voice and speech pattern under Stallworth’s guidance.

After Zimmerman successfully presents himself as Stallworth in front of KKK members, Stallworth and Zimmerman continue to work closely together while avoiding any possible suspicion as much as possible, and they soon come to infiltrate deeper into KKK as gaining trust from not only local KKK members but also David Duke (Toper Grace), the notorious leading figure of KKK. This despicable guy suspects nothing at all while talking with Stallworth on the phone, and that leads to another hilarious scene in the film you have to see for yourself.

Of course, the situation subsequently becomes more serious when Stallworth and Zimmerman discover that the local KKK members are planning a terror against African American activists, and the adapted screenplay by Lee and his co-writers Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott, which is based on Stallworth’s nonfiction book “Black Klansman”, does not hesitate to go all the way for grabbing our attention more. During one certain sequence featuring D.W. Griffith’s infamous racist movie “The Birth of a Nation” (1916), a vile private ceremony held by Duke and other KKK members is intercut with a small meeting where an old African American man reminisces about how a young mentally disabled African American man was wrongfully accused for the rape of a white woman and then savagely mutilated and murdered in public not long after “The Birth of a Nation” was released, and this memorable moment later resonates further with what is presented at the end of the movie.

Under Lee’s skillful direction, the main cast members of the movie are effective on the whole. Ably moving back and forth between comedy and drama, John David Washington, who is Denzel Washington’s son, shows here that he is a good actor with considerable talent and presence, and he is wonderfully complemented by Adam Driver, who is equally fine as deftly handling several crucial scenes where his character must be very careful for maintaining his disguise. While Laura Harrier holds her own small place well with her feisty performance, the other supporting performers including Ken Garito, Michael Buscemi, Corey Hawkins, Robert John Burke, Harry Belafonte, Alec Baldwin, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. have each own moment in the film, and the special mention goes to Toper Grace, who is surprisingly deplorable in his against-the-type role.

In conclusion, “BlacKkKlansman”, which received the Grand Prix prize at the Cannes Film Festival early in this year, is another energetic work in Lee’s long, illustrious career. Although I am not so sure about whether it is as great as “Do the Right Thing” (1989) and “25th Hour” (2002), the movie is indubitably one of the most important films of this year, so I wholeheartedly recommend it to you.

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