BlacKkKlansman review - Spike Lee delivers one of the most urgent films of the year
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Verdict: Funny, thoughtful and furious, Spike Lee's powerful attack on bigotry and hate calls for real change. The latest Spike Lee joint is loosely based on the absurd true story (this is, as Lee puts it, "some fo’ real, fo’ real sh*t”) of how the first African-American officer in Colorado Springs police force also became a covert member of the Ku Klux Klan. It might be set in 1973, but don’t let that fool you – BlacKkKlansman is as contemporary and necessary as anything released in cinemas this year. John David Washington (son of Spike Lee regular Denzel) plays Ron Stallworth, a cop whose earnestness and enthusiasm for the profession can’t prevent him from landing a mind-numbing job in the filing department. His break comes when he’s asked to infiltrate “a bunch of subversives” at a local Black Students’ Union meeting. There he meets – and, inevitably, falls for – activist Patrice (Laura Harrier), and listens to a rousing speech made by civil rights leader Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) that forces him to consider his complicity in the upholding of a racist system. The plot kicks into action when Stallworth finds a newspaper ad for the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, and promptly dials the number. To the disbelief of his colleagues, he convinces Walter (Ryan Eggold) that he’s a white man looking to join the Klan. Receiving reluctant permission to take the ruse further, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver – and yes, that really was his name) is enlisted as Stallworth’s white alter-ego who will attend the meetings. Obviously, a premise as preposterous as this can’t help but be played for laughs. There’s an inherent ridiculousness in Stallworth signing off his phone calls with “God bless white America”, or twirling a KKK membership card in his fingers. But in the context of contemporary American politics – i.e. with a bigot in the White House (‘Agent Orange’, as Lee has nicknamed him) and the alt-right on the rise – it would be ill-advised to describe BlacKkKlansman as particularly humorous. Dramatic irony, a device usually associated with the comedy genre, can also be painful; and when Stallworth protests that no one would ever elect someone like Klan leader David Duke as president, it’s not funny – it’s somewhat devastating. Duke plays a considerable role in the narrative (an unnervingly calm turn by Topher Grace), which is, in part at least, a meditation on hatred. Lee is eager to stress that evil comes in many guises, so in addition to Duke, privately despicable but bidding to project the image of a respectable public figure, we get Alec Balwin playing an Alex-Jones style shouty white-supremacist. Then there’s the permanently plastered Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser) and the paranoid Felix (Jasper Pääkkönen), who, suspecting Flip to be Jewish, demands to know whether he is ‘circumstanced’. They’re all morons, though the film doesn’t let us forget that morons can still be dangerous – again, a particularly pertinent message for citizens living under the Trump administration.
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