Rating: R, language throughout, including racial epithets, and disturbing/violent material and some sexual references
Release Date: August 10, 2018
Jeanne: Yes, you read that right — and, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve also seen the ads and billboards for BLACKkKLANSMAN. So, you ask, how can this be? Well, in the mid-1970s — this is a true story, by the way — Ron Stallworth, played here so brilliantly by John David Washington (yep, son of Denzel), petitioned the powers that be in the Colorado Springs Police Department to become the first African-American detective.
His initial undercover assignment was to attend a rally featuring Stokely Carmichael, now known as Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins), as the main speaker. It is there that he meets Patrice (Laura Harrier), president of the black student union on the Colorado College campus. She is not a fan of the “pigs” or cops, and Ron can’t tell her what he’s up to anyway. He does such an excellent job that his precinct captain permits him to pursue an opportunity to infiltrate a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
Ron calls Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold) on the phone, pretending to be an extreme racist, but using his real name — a mistake — and his incredibly smooth voice. Walter is president of the local KKK — or “organization” — and wants to meet in person. Obviously, Ron can’t be there, so a veteran member of his task force, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), shows up wearing a wire, instead.
The real Ron continues to cultivate his ties to the Klan by reaching out to David Duke (Topher Grace), the Grand Imperial Wizard of the KKK at their headquarters in Louisiana. Most everyone is overjoyed with this new recruit, except one crazy member, Felix (Jasper Pääkkönen), his wife, Connie (Ashlie Atkinson) and Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser), Felix’s sidekick.
These three are hell-bent on killing black people, with Connie being particularly set on Patrice. They devise a plan which allows Connie to prove her worth. Ron and Flip get wind of the potentially fatal plot and before Flip’s cover is blown, by the insidious little Felix, he and Ron have to warn Patrice.
Based on Ron Stallworth’s 2014 memoir “Black Klansman”, the adapted screenplay was penned by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott, with additional help from director Spike Lee. This is the quintessential perfect story for Lee. Beginning with SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT in 1986, Lee has always chosen topics rooted in truth and steadfastly spoken out via his films about social justice and the need for change.
And BLACKkKLANSMAN is as good as he gets. It is superbly written with enough humor to keep even the most jaded viewer interested. But his movie is also scarily parallel to what is happening in our country today. Released very close to the anniversary of Charlottesville, BLACKkKLANSMAN illustrates, painfully, that things haven’t changed all that much since the 70s. It is Lee’s gift at storytelling that transcends BLACKkKLANSMAN from a true tale of the near impossible — a black man getting inside the KKK — to a powerful indictment of our current administration’s racist policies.
But Lee doesn’t do all of this on his own. The cast is absolutely exemplary. Washington is mesmerizing and has an incredible sense of comedic timing for those rather humorous moments. He possesses a formidable screen presence, exuding an ease way beyond his years. And he plays beautifully off of Driver, who I think gives the best portrayal of his career as Flip Zimmerman. He has given many memorable performances, including in Martin Scorsese’s SILENCE (2016), though this character shows more range.
It isn’t just these two — the entire ensemble is amazing. From Harrier to Eggold, and especially Pääkkönen and Atkinson, everyone involved in this production is above par. Each has a part in creating and maintaining the palpable suspense permeating BLACKkKLANSMAN. Most importantly let us not forget Alec Baldwin, who starts the adventure as Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard — what a piece of work — he’s so fabulous!
The crowning touch in Lee’s achievement is the soundtrack. Music from the 70s follows us throughout the film and it lends a nostalgic, magical element. BLACKkKLANSMAN is the summer tour-de-force that should not be missed!
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
David: I can think of a few “bests” associated with Spike Lee’s latest movie BLACKkKLANSMAN, co-produced by Jordan Peele. It should go down as Lee’s best film; it is Adam Driver’s career best performance; and absolutely the movie should be nominated for Best Picture of 2018. In fact, this stunningly powerful indictment of racism in America should be remembered as one of the best films of this — or any other year.
Based on the 2014 book by Ron Stallworth, now retired from the Colorado Springs police department, it follows the improbable true journey of a black undercover cop who infiltrates the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan via a prolonged series of wily telephone conversations. And whenever it was necessary to meet in person, it was Stallworth’s Caucasian counterpart from the department, Philip “Flip” Zimmerman, who duped the Klansmen, and was even invited by the then-president of the chapter to take over and lead this small local KKK group.
Denzel Washington’s son John David Washington plays Stallworth and he is extraordinary. He combines humor with a real lust for his job, while coping with racist asides within his own police department. As the true driving force impassioned with the desire to expose the Klan, and deter them from any violent plots, Washington is totally credible.
Driver portrays Zimmerman who agrees to go undercover to be the face of Stallworth in clandestine sessions with the Klan. Zimmerman wears a wire, which, lest he be discovered, is always a source of high suspense for the audience. At one point in the story, he is challenged to take a lie detector test by one of the scarier Klansmen, Felix Kendrickson, played by Finnish actor Jasper Pääkkönen. While the KKK chapter president, Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold, from TV’s “The Black List”, another excellent turn) is reasonable and trusting, Felix is vile and open about his disdain of blacks and Jews. It is Felix who never completely trusts that Zimmerman is actually Stallworth, and his constant doubts and accusations trigger much of the film’s tension.
Driver is phenomenal in the role, always overcoming touchy situations where Zimmerman must think quickly on his feet to avoid being revealed. The actor is adept at showing courage under fire, even as his character’s life is in real peril. The possibility that Zimmerman will be found out by the Klan is a constant source of worry for both he and the viewer, yet Lee and his team of writers manage to weave frequent bits of comic relief throughout.
The supporting cast is all excellent, notably Paul Walter Hauser as Ivanhoe, a hard-drinking Klansman who threatens to “fly off the handle” at any moment; Robert John Burke as Chief Bridges, a no-nonsense top cop who gives Stallworth his opportunity to go undercover; Ken Garito as Sgt. Trapp, who delivers some of the funnier dialogue; Frederick Weller as the openly racist cop Andy Landers; and Ashlie Atkinson, positively revolting as Connie Kendrickson, with her blatant hatred of all persons who don’t meet her standards of what it means to be white.
But the greatest kudos for a supporting performance I’m reserving for Topher Grace as the KKK’s Grand Imperial Wizard/national director David Duke. Grace plays Duke — still a participant today, by the way — with the perfect amount of smarminess, along with doses of arrogance, naivete and stupidity.
Lee, who co-wrote the script with three others, opens his film with a truly jaw-dropping spectacle that is revealed as he pulls his camera back, ever so gradually. This is followed by a semi-hilarious and somewhat sobering cameo from none other than Alec Baldwin. Thus Lee has his audience in his grip well before the main story begins to unfold. And the director’s occasional, not-so-subtle jabs at Trump let us know where he stands politically, as if we needed any insight in that regard.
Then there’s BLACKkKLANSMAN’s startling conclusion. I will only say that Lee utilizes actual footage from a major 2017 event. I promise you will not be able to look away from the screen. Despite the fact that Lee’s film takes place in the 1970s, his ending is a disturbingly sad and appalling reminder that racism is still so prevalent in today’s America, almost 50 years later.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!