A wistful, if tangled impressionism comprises Spike Lee’s most accessible feature since Inside Man. And, it has Denzel Washington’s son John David (former NFL running back-turned-actor) at the center of his uneven and unsubtle, though provocative procedural polemic on racial injustice from a 1970s case. One that has its share of humor to go along with impassionate rhetoric and rage. As the latter has made itself more virulently known in a social media frenetic era countered by a cry of unity.
Blackkklansman revolves around Washington’s hirsute, afro-coiffed Ron Stallworth (from whose memoir the screenplay was adapted, collaborated on by Lee) as the black Colorado policeman who would infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan. Of course, doing it by phone through impersonation while having more seasoned white Jewish colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver of The Last Jedi, Logan Lucky, and Paterson) doing the face-to-face stuff prior to ramifications of such chancy exposure.
As in Lee’s early more polished and persuasive efforts like Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X the conversation of how to deal with the deep, nearly intractable divide from a lower-class perspective has to be engaged. Pacifism from within or unmitigated righteous fury? The dichotomy is handled through Ron (the sole black cop on the force) who thinks there’s something vital about this undercover operation. Not so much from his Black Power proponent love interest, Patrice, filled with sass by Laura Harrier, who retorts that Ron is giving in to the machinations overpowering him.
The funny, sobering interludes include impeccable detail, atmosphere and topicality that may become too didactic for some viewers. Even though a grim perspicacity of history is behind it – from influential films like D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation and Gone With The Wind to recent violence from Charlottesville, Virginia that Lee includes to hammer down his unvarnished wrath. Alec Baldwin’s white supremacist assists at the outset to help establish the current connection and a Harry Belafonte oration reinforces it.
From the tension similarly felt from the present to four decades earlier, Topher Grace unctuously maneuvers his Grand Wizard David Duke among a sect not portrayed with much intellectual richness. The director’s intuition helps instill maturity to what isn’t always finely modulated with longtime collaborative composer reinforcing despondency in stylish grandeur. The unending discord intoned here often with a certain amusing disenchantment continues to impact culture and caused much pain and outrage.
Washington captures some of the cocksure attitude of his highly respected dad trying to sense Ron’s position as he drifts between indignation and tact. Driver offers an imperturbable quality to his conflicted. much implanted Flip within a dangerous, much despising organization.
Lee (an effective analyst and relater of moral relativism in social and/or political contexts of films like He Got Game, 25th Hour and Chi-Raq) may not win over many new fans in his unequivocal, unashamed approach. Essentially, Blackkklansman realizes an ugly vigorously agitated hate currently in America like “those denied their dignity” captured in the tenuously intriguing Ron/Flip/Duke dynamic. At last, it’s difficult to ignore the cogency of the risk and serious consequences in a colorful, though customary twirling of his dramatic pick-me-up.