Tuesday 4 September 2018

Film: 'BlacKkKlansman'

Time was when any new Spike Lee film was a major cinematic event. Alas, no more. Despite having made some two dozen feature films (plus documentaries, shorts, TV progs etc) and never slowed down since he burst on the scene in the early 80s with the much-lauded 'She's Gotta Have It' and 'Do the Right Thing', for the last 20 years-plus if there's been any mention at all of his new films it's been subdued and, at least in the U.K., most not even given a theatrical release. In fact I'm not sure that I've seen any of them since Malcolm X' way back in 1992. But here he comes now with, few could seriously deny, a most remarkable film, the timing of which could hardly be more apposite.

Set around 1971/2, John David Washington (son of Denzel) plays Ron Stallworth, on whose book the film is based, a rookie employee taken on by Colorado Springs Police Dept., but only with reluctance because of the force's previous unfavourable history regarding in-force attitudes to African-American staff. He has the superficially madcap idea of infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan by masquerading as a white sympathiser by expressing his interest and 'prejudices' on the phone (complete with multiple racial-insulting epithets) to 'the organisation', but having one of his white colleagues (Adam Driver) to be his wired-up alter ego in face-to-face meetings with members of the Klan - after coaching to make their voices sound similar. The situation gives rise to moments of high tension, as you can imagine, specifically as a result of one of the prominent Klan members being suspicious of him, suspecting him of being Jewish - which, in fact, he is, in name at least - and he even gets to meet the then Grand Wizard of the Klan, David Duke (played by Topher Grace in a significant part). 

Both Washington (in his first major role) and Driver are superb and could hardly be bettered, as also is Laura Harrier as a prominent and militant black student president befriended by Washington but the latter having to keep his true identity hidden from her.

The film opens with a short, spectacular and well known panoramic scene from 'Gone With The Wind' followed by a cameo appearance from Alec Baldwin (very pertinent, given his current well-known TV imitation persona) as a fervid, white supremacist spitting out on  camera to some comical effect 'justifications' for his racist views.   
Later in the film there is another guest appearance, this time from the revered Harry Belafonte talking of particular K.K.K. actions in a certain case which, I never having heard before, made me gasp in horror.

It could have been a bleakly one-note, polemical film but it's more multi-layered than that. There are a few lighter moments with both whites and blacks being depicted as earnest yet not unflawed. 

Approaching the film's conclusion I was initially thinking that a note of triumphalism was misplaced in the light of what we now see happening in America. Then it quickly dawned on me that we can only say that through hindsight. Who would have thought, over 40 years on, that such attitudes as displayed by the K.K.K. would be as centre-stage as they've now become, thanks to their being re-invigorated and 'legitimised' by the present W.H. incumbent? I certainly thought that such would have been confined to distant history by now.
I then also recalled that the film would be ending on a very serious cautionary note, and so it turns out, and very effectively too. We see Trump speaking, including his "very fine people" statement, which even now still sends a chill through the bones - as well as the woman being killed by being run over at the Charlottesville demonstration.  

It's a very well-judged film. Spike Lee doesn't put a foot wrong in its 2hr 15mins, though it's so well constructed it doesn't feel that length, it not letting up for one moment.

Provocative. thought-engendering, often uncomfortable (you'll probably squirm frequently at the language as I did) yet ultimately magnificently rewarding. A proud and singular achievement.......................8.

( IMDb............7.9 / Rott. Toms.............8.2 )


  1. We saw this yesterday and loved it; a great, important film. I literally cried at the last scenes of Charlottesville from last year.

    And, naturally, my first thought was, 'What did Raybeard think?'

    I'm glad to know you also liked the film.

    1. Those final few minutes also wet my eyes, Bob - and that, with me, is R-A-R-E.
      Even though the film, apart from those last few mins, were set in the early 70s, I should think that today, many a Republican supporter wouldn't have the stomach to watch it right through.
      It's despairing to think how much society has gone backwards since that time - and not just in America. The election of Trump was a catalyst for an upsurge in negativity and hatred which has reverberated all round the world, in the U.K. no less than anywhere else. Horrible times.

      This is a hugely important film for which we must all thank Spike Lee.

    2. Nothing much for me to add, Ray because you stated it so well in your review and your response.

      "Make America great again!" Words spoken by Duke and now embraced by the ignorant, hateful Trump supporters.

      Watched a few interviews with Topher Grace and I hope he receives recognition at awards time. Very difficult for him to play a man who is so evil.

    3. I also was highly impressed by Topher Grace's role, Paul. Scarily believable because it was played so understated, like a snake in the grass. I'd like to see his part recognised somehow too.

      As an entity this is a major film and I'm sure will be remembered because of its (to us) contemporary context. Spike Lee has done society a service by holding up this mirror. Glad you liked it as much as I and so many others have.

    4. I, too, was truck how the film shows that we are not far removed today from those days.
      But shining a light on the hate and talking about race might just move us forward!

    5. I still can't get over how we've gone back to worse than it was before 1970, Bob. It's got to be continually talked about otherwise if it gets taken for granted, oh woe betide ALL of us!