At the Movies with Alan Gekko: BlacKkKlansman “2018”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: BlacKkKlansman “2018”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Biographical Dark Comedy Crime Thriller/Stars: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Jasper Pääkkönen, Ryan Eggold, Paul Walter Hauser, Ashlie Atkinson, Corey Hawkins, Michael Buscemi, Ken Garito, Robert John Burke, Fred Weller, Nicholas Turturro, Harry Belafonte, Alec Baldwin, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Damaris Lewis/Runtime: 135 minutes

I think it can be safely said that even though slices of cinema like the ones given to us by Marvel, a fantasy franchise in the vein of Lord of the Rings, or even a genuinely terrifying horror film can make for fairly enjoyable cinematic outings for their respective audiences there is one issue that perhaps can be found with all of these that you might not think of at first. Namely that they aren’t entirely accurate at showcasing the proverbial “real world” that we all reside in. To be fair though, I don’t entirely think that is what those slices of cinema are intending to pull off. Indeed, if anything, that is a job that is designated off to either indie slices of cinema or helmers who can give us a genuine and honest look at our world. The reason I bring that up is because, throughout the past 3-4 decades of movie magic, there aren’t that many film helmers who are able to accomplish this as consistently or as thought-provokingly as Spike Lee has managed to ever since his debut at the helm in 1986 with She’s Gotta Have It. Yet through all the works that this helmer has managed to given us in his legendary career including his phenomenal quartet of collaborations with equally as iconic actor Denzel Washington I honestly don’t think any of them have been as wild as his slice of cinema from 2018, and film I am reviewing for you today incidentally, BlacKkKlansman. Yes, this story of an African-American law enforcement officer in 1970s Colorado who managed to inexplicably infiltrate the local chapter of the Klan is just as political as Spike Lee’s other cinematic efforts. At the same time though, this slice of cinema also manages to do a wonderful job of balancing its more serious moments, of which there are quite a few, with a delightful sense of humor at both the sheer ludicrousness of the situation to say nothing of the straight up idiocy on the part of the totally clueless group of antagonists who have no idea that they have become the most unaware participants on the MTV show Punk’d ever. Suffice it to say that it might have a few miniscule issues scattered about here and there, but with the aid of an immensely talented cast and crew, BlacKkKlansman is an absolutely engaging, quite biting, and incredibly insightful slice of cinema that also might be one of the finest films given to us as movie goers by a supremely talented film helmer whose filmography really truly is nothing short of them.

The plot is as follows: BlacKkKlansman gets its riveting yarn underway by first showing us a scene from that iconic film Gone with the Wind where we witness that film’s heroine, one Scarlett O’Hara, as she is in the midst of weaving her way through an abundance of wounded military personnel all whilst the camera slowly makes its way toward revealing the flag of the Confederate States of America (or Confederacy for short). From there, the film then provides us with a short intro where we get a star I won’t name here portraying a white rights promoter from either the 50s or 60s who then goes into a rant of sorts about how “vile and wicked the African American is”. Yet, besides leaving you seriously thinking you might have accidentally wandered into a movie called Klansman instead of BlacKkKlansman, we see that these two intros of sorts are meant to showcase for us the racial divide that Lee wants made clear before we go any further into the film proper. From there, the film finally gets underway by taking us to the early 70s as well as introducing us to our hero in the form of a young man named Ron Stallworth. We are quite quickly able to learn that Stallworth has just begun work as a cop working for Colorado Springs PD. Yet despite facing extreme prejudice by most of his colleagues for being the only African American officer, we see that Stallworth quickly gets exhausted by his assigned post in the records room and begins pushing at the Chief to give him a “real assignment”. To that end, we quickly see that the Chief decides to take his request seriously and reassigns him to the Investigations department where, for his first assignment, he must go undercover to look into an former Black Panther who is a guest speaker at a Black Student Union event. An assignment that becomes complicated not only by our hero witnessing fellow African Americans who vehemently are anti-law enforcement, but because of the romantic sparks he forms with the female president of the BSU even though she has no idea of what he really does for a living. At any rate, we see that a bit of time later our hero is sitting at his desk and going through the town newspaper when his eye catches an ad for the local chapter of the Klan. On a whim, we see our hero decide to call them up to inquire about potential membership whilst also tearing into everyone who isn’t what the Klan views as “pure white” in order to sell them on his interest. Unfortunately, for all the good work he does, there is one thing he does which could potentially cause the whole thing to implode. Namely he gives the chapter president his real name. Undeterred however, we see that our hero ingeniously comes up with the solution of having a seasoned colleague named Flip play him in person while he continues to talk with various members of the group over the phone (caller ID wasn’t a thing back then apparently). Yet as insane as this plan is, even crazier is the fact that our dynamic duo in voice and body are actually able to infiltrate the local Klan chapter only to quickly learn two things. Those being that not only do they have some quite menacing individuals amongst their ranks, but these individuals also most assuredly are a few tools short of a tool box enough to go from making mere idle threats to actually doing things that are either genuinely perilous or maybe even downright illegal. Oh, and I guess I should also point out that this is before we find the real Ron is able to develop a curious friendship of sorts over the phone with none other than the Grand Wizard of the Klan himself David Duke. Thus, can Ron on the outside and Flip on the inside take down one of the most infamous hate groups in America or is this one charade that is about to blow up in their face? That I will leave for you to discover for yourself dear reader…..

Now right off the bat I know that the plot for this slice of cinema may seem almost too silly to have actually occurred, but I can definitely promise you that this is most assuredly based on a true story. Indeed, it is this disparity that we see film helmer Spike Lee choose to lean into a fair bit throughout the duration of this slice of cinema’s 2 hour and 15-minute runtime which as a result gives us a slice of cinema that alternates between being both a law enforcement buddy comedy as well as intense crime thriller at different points throughout. Suffice it to say that Lee throughout his entire career has given us movies that are perhaps a bit on the style excessive side, and this slice of cinema is definitely a continuation of that cinematic tradition as even though the wrinkles of race, the aforementioned concept’s relationship with law enforcement, and how prejudice/extremism can affect an individual even if you choose to act like it doesn’t are operating at the core of this slice of cinema, it is still able to give you at the very least a few cathartic moments courtesy of having a sense of humor when it needs to. As a result, this slice of cinema may be an extremely emotional and often taut odyssey that we embark on, but at no point in time does it ever give off the vibe of being too bleak or grim for its own good. Perhaps the most noteworthy example for how this slice of cinema’s distinct tone is utilized can be in how the antagonists in this are dealt with. For example, yes David Duke is perhaps the most diabolical individual in this slice of cinema’s rogues gallery to be sure, but he is given two distinct parts to play in the narrative. Those being yes the main bad guy especially in some of the more twisted actions and speeches he gives us in in the back half of the film, but also as the butt of the comedy that this slice of cinema presents us with courtesy of seeing our heroes continuously getting one up on the guy and making him look like a complete and total idiot especially with one scene near the end that will have you dying of laughter. Now along with that, if you are a fan of Spike Lee, I think you will happy to know that although this slice of cinema is bigger than some of the other movies he has made that the man’s distinct style is still very much present. Indeed, this starts with the fact that, much like a lot of Spike Lee’s other films, the music selections here do a phenomenal job at fitting the time and place that the film is set to say nothing of encouraging the action to occur. Intriguingly though, we see that the soundtrack to this slice of cinema is one that is perhaps a wee bit more reserved than fans of Lee might be expecting, but there are still some gems to be found including both the delightful Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose’s “Too Late To Turn Back Now” that don’t be surprised if you find yourself listening to for a while after the movie is over as well as a cover Prince did of the song “Mary Don’t You Weep” that is downright powerful. Finally, we also see that this slice of cinema does an absolutely fantastic job of nailing down the look and vibe of the 70s in a way that not many other slices of cinema could have. Indeed, from the hair styles present on our cast of characters as well as the assorted clothes they are all rockin’ to a scene where our main character and his lady love go to a disco of sorts for a date night as well as the overall vibe of the film, this slice of cinema is one that feels less like a film that was made in 2018 and more like one that was made in the actual 1970s and is just now being rediscovered and released to the masses.

It is also worth pointing out here that the work being done in front of the camera is just as on-point as the work done behind it. This starts with John David Washington (son of frequent Spike Lee collaborator and acting legend Denzel Washington) who does a terrific job in the lead role of Ron Stallworth. Indeed, Washington does a great job at playing this guy with not only a low-key charisma, but also a sense of righteousness and integrity to say nothing of being genuinely funny in the scenes where he is allowed to crack wise about things. With that said though, there are also moments where I felt like Washington was also portraying this guy as a bit of an enigma since, by and large, you don’t really get a grand motive for why he engages in the actions that he does other than a general vibe that he just wants to eliminate racism from the community. Even with that in mind however, there is no denying that this is still a fantastic performance through and through. We also see that backing Washington up here is a fairly capable support cast. This starts with Adam Driver who, surprise, is really freaking good in his role of Flip Zimmerman aka the cop who reluctantly (at first) not only partners up with Stallworth, but who portrays him whenever Stallworth has meet-ups with members of the Klan chapter. Indeed Driver does a great job at playing this cop who finds himself stuck having to say some truly despicable things when he is trying to become “buddy buddy” with these Klansmen which in turn also gives him the chance to really become a more three-dimensional character due to his own Jewish heritage being something that is looked down upon and thus opening his eyes a bit to just how despicable the Klan truly is. Now I am not going to lie to you dear reader: it was a bit jarring for me at first to see none other than Topher Grace (Eric Forman from That 70s Show) as David Duke. Having said that though, this was most likely a purposeful casting decision since a lot of his screentime initially is quite comedic since Duke discusses with our black hero the joys both share due to erroneously assuming him to be a white man. With that in mind though, there is no denying that when the film calls for him to lean into despicability that Grace proves he is able to deliver that and then some. We also see that Laura Harrier does wonderful work in the role of Patrice who, besides having fairly good chemistry with Washington, also acts as sort of the conscience of the film in a sense. Finally, I also think that praise should be given to none other than the legendary Harry Belafonte who, despite his small role in this, gives it the gravitas that only someone of Belafonte’s stature could bring to the table. Suffice it to say that everyone in the cast no matter how big or small their role may be really does manage to bring their best here and it shows.

All in all in the aftermath of a few of the more recent slices of cinema helmer by Lee, I must admit that I had begun to worry about if we would get another genuinely great entry in this film helmer’s filmography. A belief I can attribute to the fact that, his work in the documentary realm of cinema aside, his slices of fictional cinema weren’t exactly on par with what we as movie goers had come to expect from him with his 2013 remake of Old Boy perhaps being his lowest point. Thankfully, we saw that he began to make a bit of a rebound with 2015’s Chi-Raq which, for all of its flaws, was actually pretty good and then a fairly complete recovery with this slice of cinema courtesy of Lee and his team managing to contribute to the film a vibrance, flair, and relevance that really hadn’t been apparent in Lee’s work since at least Inside Man in 2006. Not only that, but beside the phenomenal work engaged in behind the camera we also manage to be blessed recipients of top-flight work from a truly game cast in front of the camera as well. Thus I think it is safe to say that as a whole BlacKkKlansman is a very on point slice of cinema that manages to be both a genuinely enjoyable cinematic outing as well as providing a well-delivered message and firm look at the state of the world at the moment courtesy of a helmer who is noteworthy for always conveying important messages to us in slices of cinema that are also incredibly engaging and riveting at the same time. Make of that therefore what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give BlacKkKlansman “2018” a solid 4 out of 5.