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BlacKkKlansman Movie Review

'BlacKkKlansman' is Everything Spike Lee Does Best

In the best possible way, "BlacKkKlansman" plays like the greatest hits of Spike Lee's oeuvre. It's wild and messy, thought-provoking and utterly damning, all while being supremely entertaining. It's vital movie-going from an auteur who hasn't had a hit in quite some time or connected with an audience like he once could. "BlacKkKlansman," his most accessible film since the bank heist thriller "Inside Man," is certain to make a splash with the general public.


Lee never really went anywhere, but his movies stopped causing the conversations they once did. "Do the Right Thing" will forever be his masterpiece but the criminally overlooked "Chi-Raq" only came out a few years ago and was a perfect example of what the director does best. He ignites a discussion, puts the spotlight on a societal issue, and makes us uncomfortable with his brutal honesty. Buckle up, because "BlacKkKlansman" does all of that.

Based on Ron Stallworth's memoir, "BlacKkKlansman" follows Stallworth (John David Washington), as he becomes the first black cop in Colorado Springs. It's always been his dream of being a police officer, even if he knows he won't always be entirely welcome in the job. First, he is stuck doing clerical work behind a desk, filling orders for evidence and paperwork. Stallworth wants to do more and takes it upon himself to launch his own investigation into the Klu Klux Klan. It's as simple as calling in response to an ad in the newspaper for the local chapter.

Stallworth obviously can't meet any of the members in person, as he is posing as a "white American" over the phone. He teams with Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), who takes on the face-to-face interactions with the Klan (excuse me, they like to be called "The Organization"). Flip poses as a hateful man named Ron Stallworth, taking on the mission of The Organization, in the hopes of building a case against them leading all the way up to the Grand Wizard, David Duke (Topher Grace).

Washington is commanding and natural in his breakout role, juggling the responsibilities of a police officer while constantly being looked to as a threat or someone who is less-than. He bears a startling resemblance to his father Denzel, but "BlacKkKlansman" is sure to make him a star in his own right. Driver delivers one of his best performances, coupling his signature deadpan delivery with a mask of hatred that he has to take on as part of the investigation. It's a tricky balancing act but the actor pulls it off effortlessly. In an interesting bit of casting, Grace plays Duke with chilly ease, welcoming and friendly to all members of his cause, while being despicable in every word he delivers.

There's a subplot involving a young woman named Patrice (Laura Harrier), a radical leader of a student organization, who serves as a romantic interest for Stallworth. It might take some time away from the central story but it offers a layer of conflict for Stallworth because Patrice doesn't like cops - often referring to them as pigs - so Stallworth neglects to tell her what he does for a living. Patrice serves as a plot point more than a fully-realized character, but Lee makes use of this story in a way that doesn't bog the film down at any point.

Lee has never been a subtle filmmaker and "BlacKkKlansman" isn't for those who can't handle his messaging. The movie is righteously and rightfully angry but manages to be thrilling and amusing without ever making light of its subject. It was important for Lee to tie the events of the 1970s-set story to what is happening in our world today, connecting the events to what happened a year ago in Charlottesville. The movie is a grenade thrown into the audience: he wants to shake us and wake everyone up. "BlacKkKlansman" shouldn't be as scarily relevant as it is.

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