Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver and Laura Harrier
Runtime: 2hrs 15mins.
When a film touches the political and social consciousness of its audience members, does that make it a great movie? Or is it a movie with a great message? A film must connect with the audiences through emotion, true; but what about the way in which it is directed? Is it so engaging that it makes the moviegoer forget that he or she is watching fictionalized characters on a screen? The BlacKkKlansman, although skillfully parallels the times of the 1970s to what is going on today, is slow and drawn out. Spike Lee has had cinematic success with films like Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X, but this film, unfortunately, is not one of them. If he could have tailored this film to a documentary format, it would have probably served him better.
John David Washington portrays John Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado in the 1970s. Stallworth successfully manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan. But he needs help from a fellow detective, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) because of the obvious reasons. Eventually, the Klan puts two and two together and they must find a way to expose the plans of the Ku Klux Klan without both getting killed.
Spike Lee’s parallel of social commentary and awareness to what is happening in the world today is masterfully done. There is one point when Stallworth (Washington) is talking to David Duke (Topher Grace) the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and he questions him on how he would know if he was talking to a white man versus a black man if he had never seen him. The reason Duke gives is hilarious. After the phone conversation, fellow officers state that Duke is seeking to run for the President of The United States and Stallworth states do you really think America would vote for a man like him for President (with an unseen wink and smile to the camera). Another statement on the social consciousness or awareness is Lee’s intentional casting of a Hispanic actor as one of the members of the Ku Klux Klan. So overtly obvious, this must be intentional, right? Spike Lee shines the light on minority characters being played by Caucasian actors for years in Hollywood. Actors like Katherine Hepburn as Jade in Dragon Seed in 1944; Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra in 1963; and Ben Affleck as Antonio J. Mendez in 2012’s Argo.
Being the son of the two-time Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington, John David Washington has big shoes to fill. But it is easy to see that the breakout star of HBO’s Ballers is a force to reckon with in Hollywood and is beginning to build quite a resume for himself.
His onscreen performance in The BlacKkKlansman, as the first black man on the Colorado Police force, is captivating; illuminating his star appeal. His back and forth banter with Klan members as he trying to convince them to join “The Organization” is both awkward and hilarious.
Spike Lee has his share of unique elements of filming that makes it a 40 Acers and a Mule Production, and this is expected when viewing his films. But at times, it makes his movies mundane and, in some spots, the film comes to a screeching halt as he tries to get his point of view or vision across. Knowing this, fans of his films typically extend their forgiveness or give him a pass for Lee’s very slow cinematic journey. As previously noted, his message is “spot on” and his comparison to what is going on in his film to what is happening in 2018 is masterfully depicted. But going into a movie, unless otherwise noted, learning and entertaining go hand in hand. I can understand why others literally applaud his effort at the end of the film; but for me, the clapping of the hands was not a reflection of what was happening on the screen, but it was an effort to keep me awake and wake up my moviegoing partner who was sleeping quietly as a newborn baby.