One can expect certain elements when walking into a new Spike Lee feature. Biting social commentary, deconstruction on black identity, and a strong blend of drama and comedy are just some of what to expect from a new film of his. BlacKkKlansman is no exception. Detailing the life of Ron Stallworth, the first African-American police officer and detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department, the film follows Stallworth, played by John David Washington, and his attempts at infiltrating a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, BlacKkKlansman has all of the elements that make Lee such an engaging and unique filmmaker, resulting in a powerful, yet richly entertaining look at a wild point in history.
As one would expect, Lee’s execution is phenomenal and one-of-a-kind. In portraying the horrendous organization, Lee makes fun of them through portraying them with idiotic personalities. They’re over-the-top, they’re clueless, they’re moronic, and are easy to mock and make fun of. And yet Lee is still able to make them menacing. Not just in the inherent villainy of the KKK, but also in how willing they are to be violent and their justification in doing so. Topher Grace as David Duke and Ashlee Atkinson as the doting and consistently abused wife Connie are particular highlights when it comes to the antagonists.
Of course the real standouts when it comes to the actors come from the two leads. John David Washington as Ron Stallworth is fantastic. Exceedingly charismatic, Washington plays well off of all of the interesting characters he meets, and his side story involving his internal dilemma with radical black activists and how his values agree and disagree with theirs is exceedingly fascinating, and gives a lot to chew on for the viewer. Adam Driver as Flip Zimmerman, the man who works with Stallworth and pretends to be him when meeting other Klan members is also fantastic. Zimmerman’s Jewish heritage brings up a lot of chilling scenes when he interacts with the Klan chapter that offer tense nailbiters.
Of course the real star of the show is Spike Lee, as this film contains much of his flourishes. There’s a decent amount of comedy, most notably with the crazy personalities of the Klan members, but it feels natural and blended in with the serious drama. It in fact heightens the tense, unnerving elements found throughout much of the story, and leads to moments that will have audiences chuckling for a while, only to immediately recoil in fear, offering a real sense of bite to the movie. But the most powerful direction Lee took with the film was in the editing booth. Intercutting footage from controversial features like Gone with the Wind and The Birth of a Nation at certain points, as well as featuring juxtaposing sequences featuring Black Power activists and the Klan, it only makes the messaging hit even harder. America was founded upon racism, and racism still persists throughout all aspects of American culture and Lee explains this fact through such clever editing tricks, allowing powerful visuals and striking contrasts to show just how horrible times were in the past, and how little we’ve come.
But what really makes BlacKkKlansman special is its ending. It’s better knowing very little, but the ending has a lot of ties to recent events in the American news, and it makes the film come to a full circle. By putting a mirror in front of America, and chastising the nation for refusing to change their ways, BlacKkKlansman’s ending is emotionally devastating, and a powerful reminder of what little progress we as a nation have made, and while the rest of the film is stellar, the conclusion is one to remember and is worth the admission price alone.