Director Spike Lee has finally reclaimed his relevance with “BlacKkKlansman,” a hard-hitting and uncomfortably funny film about the first African-American detective to work for the Colorado Springs Police Department. It’s gutsy, provocative, and packed with humor that’s designed to make audiences squirm, yet it never feels like the film’s sole mission is to shock or agitate. This one manages to excel at something many thinkpiece social commentary films can’t: it’s thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time.
Rookie Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is determined to make a name for himself once he joins the police force, so he sets out to infiltrate and expose the members of local Ku Klux Klan. Working with his white colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), the duo team up to take down the extremist group. There are close calls with the hate-filled locals as Ron (who becomes a card carrying member of the KKK) provides the voice and Flip becomes the face of the operation.
Lee marries the look and feel of a ’70s era blaxploitation flick with a gutsy modern-day sensibility, creating a project that is as disarming as it is alarming. He goes for broke in every way possible, which means the film isn’t without its problems.
Lee pushes the white power caricatures a little too far (they eventually become too cartoonish and diminish the film’s overall message), and there are some poorly shot fantasy-like sequences. The film also features a few too many self-congratulatory scenes that feel like they were written solely as Oscar bait. But overall the good far outweighs the bad, from the unexpected humor and genuine thrills to the solid performances from the cast (including Topher Grace as Grand Wizard David Duke and Laura Harrier as student activist Patrice).
Lee uses history to string together a chilling American legacy of white supremacy that stretches from the Civil War era to last year’s deadly rally in Charlottesville. He creates a potent commentary on current events that leads to the brutal realization that our society hasn’t changed all that much since 1970, especially when it comes to race relations. This film left me asking “when is enough, enough?”
The somber ending will make you want to hug your neighbors and hopefully inspire others to either start or continue speaking out about injustices, wherever they may arise. We can all make the world a better place by fighting together to stamp out hate. All power to all the people.