BlacKkKlansman - Review

After my second viewing of Spike Lee's latest film, Blackkklansman, I realized something. This is not meant to be an inspirational, true-to-life account of corrupt history. It is a dramatized and stylized work of fiction meant to paint a specific picture, and in that respect, it is a staggering success. 


Blackkklansman opens with a statement. "This joint here is based on some fo real, fo real sh*t!". While this might be discounted as a joke or the obligatory "joint" mention, it is the most important shot of the film. It establishes that while the events are based on history, the tone will tell a different story. Blackkklansman has an agenda, a brilliant one at that, but an agenda nonetheless. If you stuck around after the final dolly shot, you know what I'm talking about. In that montage of racially charged events and extreme violence in 2017, Spike Lee is giving us real, factual history. While the film delves into the ridiculous and dramatic, the ending montage reveals the influence. 

John David Washington, son of Denzel, does a great job selling the goofy and self-assured Ron Stallworth, in a nearly fictitious version of the man. The real Stallworth was not a good guy, but Washington's performance and Lee's script paint him as the exact middle ground between conformist and radical. This makes for an interesting character, especially when he is forced to choose between his job or his girl, but not an accurate one. 

The rest of the cast, notably including Adam Driver and Topher Grace, play each side of the coin. Grace's portrayal of David Duke is spot on, and doesn't do anything to hide Duke's racist worldview. One of the best scenes in the film has Stallworth putting his arms around Duke and another white supremacist in one of the purest moments of comedy, made by Grace's incredible acting. Adam Driver is given a classic cop role, but in his attempt to blend in with members of the KKK he is pushed to new heights of ferocity and intensity that he usually reserves for Star Wars (I can't believe I just wrote that). 

Despite factual errors and a complete disregard for actual history, Blackkklansman is an incredible statement film that rests on its style and humor too often. Lee is not sure if he should say certain things, but then films some of the most racially charged scenes I've seen in any film. The script is solid, and the acting is universally great, but this inconsistency between history and fabrication can be misleading, especially for those going in expecting a true story. If you go in to be entertained, you will be, but this is not a funny or naturally dramatic film. If you go in expecting drama and hard hitting truth, the montage of recent violence at the end will likely be more effective than the film for you.