Blackkklansman intrigued me when I first heard about it because the story it portrays is so complex and insane and when I found out it was based on true events I could not believe that this happened. This film clocks in at 2 hours and 16 minutes, and it is a dense film to say the least.
The story, or at least an extremely abridged version of it follows Ron Stallworth, the first African American Colorado Springs Police officer. Not content with being stuck behind a desk, Stallworth joins the intelligence division and infiltrates the KKK, posing over the phone as an American everyman who is highly against racial integration and is just straight up racist. When the KKK are so impressed by his turn as a white racist and ask to meet him, he send fellow officer Phillip “Flip” Zimmerman in his place, and together the two of them orchestrate a sting operation against the Colorado Springs KKK chapter.
I loved this film, and while it is a lot to take in and is a long film I didn’t feel bored at any point for the duration of the film. Director Spike Lee goes a long way to make this film and it’s characters feel authentic, and this can be seen in several aspects of the film. Chief among these is the cinematography. The film is shot in a way that captures the 70s essence of the story, with grainy shots that look as if they were shot in the 70s.
The cast were a huge highlight of this film as well, with excellent performances coming all round but particularly from John David Washington as Ron Stallworth, Adam Driver as “Flip” Zimmerman and Topher Grace as David Duke. The chemistry between Driver and Washington is good, and the two interact the way two people in their situation naturally would, and I would be interested to see them team up for future films as they had good interplay with one another. Grace’s portrayal of Klan leader David Duke was also excellent, as he was clearly having fun hamming it up in the role and didn’t have to slog through it unenthusiastically ala Spider-man 3. The supporting cast of Laura Harrier, Jasper Pääkkönen, Ryan Eggold and Robert John Burke among others were also great, and the cast was really one of the strongest points of this film.
The pacing and tension were well executed with it feeling like Stallworth and Zimmerman could be found out at any point making for several extremely tense moments throughout. There are moments of humour peppered throughout this film, and one of the best ones comes towards the films closing. After the investigation has been closed Stallworth phones up David Duke one more time and gloats to him about his successful duping of the Klan leader by throwing back all of the racist rhetoric Duke had perpetuated about how the difference between black and white people can be heard by revealing that he is actually a black detective. Duke is left stunned and winded while Stallworth and the other cops are howling with laughter. It is a hilarious scene, and the film is worth watching for that scene alone.
Naturally, Lee also explores racial issues throughout the entire film and for the most part these are well executed, nuanced views on race relations and tensions. The part where the story of lynching victim Jessie Washington was retold was particularly haunting, and for the majority of the film these views and opinions are expertly woven in. The fact that there is a black police officer seeking to change the system from the inside while trying to maintain a relationship with a woman who feels firmly change must be external is complex, and the two characters portray their viewpoints rather well when set against the backdrop of 70s racial tension. I say for the most part because my one main gripe with the film is the ending montage of Black lives matter protests and the Charlottesville incident of last year. Lee put these clips in to illustrate a rather important point. The message is that even after so much change and turmoil since the time of Ron Stallworth America still has a long way to go in terms of achieving true racial equality, and that even now the issue needs addressing.
It is an unequivocally important point, and one that I agree with. My issue comes with the way these clips are inserted. These clips feel extremely ham-fisted, and wherein the rest of the film adds nuance and depth to the portrayal of racial issues this montage tackles the issue in a very clumsy way and botches an otherwise completely correct parallel between 70s era and modern day America.
Verdict: Overall I loved this film and would have to give it a 9/10 for carrying an important message and largely taking a mature stance on the issues presented within the film