Saturday, August 11, 2018
Based on the autobiographical novel Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth, BlacKkKlansman is the real-life story about detective Ron Stallworth who manages to infiltrate a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan with the help of a white detective as its face. Directed by Spike Lee and screenplay by Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charles Wachtel, and Kevin Willmott, the film is a look into how an African-American detective in Colorado somehow infiltrated a local chapter of the white supremacist group and eventually be a head of one of its chapters with John David Washington starring in the role of Stallworth Also starring Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Corey Hawkins, Robert John Burke, Harry Belafonte, and Alec Baldwin as Dr. Kennebrew Beaureguard. BlacKkKlansman is a rapturous and witty film from Spike Lee.
Set in 1972, the film is about the real-life story of rookie cop Ron Stallworth who becomes the first African-American officer to work for the local precinct at Colorado Springs, Colorado where he would move up to intelligence where he finds himself making contact with a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s a film that play into this man who would find himself be part of the notorious white supremacist group as he and another undercover officer in Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) would both play this man wanting to join the KKK in Stallworth’s name. The film’s screenplay does take a few dramatic liberties as the real-life events took place in 1979 yet given the context of the times and the struggle for black identity in the early 1970s. The script does play into this tension that is looming with Stallworth in the middle as a man who just wants to be a good cop and protect all kinds of people.
While he would encounter some racism from a fellow cop who likes to bust other African-Americans in Colorado Springs, Stallworth knows when to not say anything as he is given an opportunity to make a difference in the local precinct. While he knows when to keep his mouth shut, Stallworth would eventually get some serious work as an undercover officer where he first attends a student rally where civil rights leader Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) was speaking to see if Ture is planning something that could cause trouble. Stallworth would get his first serious assignment when he answers an ad from the Ku Klux Klan where he talks in a Caucasian accent as he would fool several leaders but knows that he needs a white face to get in. Zimmerman does it despite the fact that he’s Jewish as he takes Stallworth’s name as he would meet the local chapter’s leader Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold) as well as the psychotic Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Paakkonen). Through their frequent contacts, Stallworth would eventually get to chat on the phone with KKK’s grand wizard in David Duke (Topher Grace).
Much of the film’s second and third act has Stallworth and Zimmerman play as the former to the meetings with the latter having to attend meetings and at shooting ranges as well as the ceremony during the film’s third act. The film does have elements of humor in some of the dialogue as the script doesn’t just play into this idea of how idiotic some of the people in the KKK are but also how it parallels with events that are happening in the 21st Century including this rhetoric of making America great again. It would play into a moment in the film as its climax involves Duke’s appearance at this event but also plans to disrupt an event nearby held by Colorado College’s black student union president Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier) whom Stallworth is embarking on a relationship with.
Spike Lee’s direction is gripping for the way he plays up this idea of white power as it opens with a scene of Dr. Kennebrew Beaureguard making a scientific explanation about the dangers of racial integration while using images from films like Gone with the Wind and Birth of a Nation as examples as it would inspire these ideas of white supremacy with African-Americans, Jews, and other racial/ethnic groups as inferior. Shot on location in Ossining, New York as Colorado Springs with some exteriors shot at Colorado Springs, Colorado, the film does play into this small town that is like any other town in America but with this undercurrent of rampant racism that is emerging. Lee would use some wide shots for the locations but also create something that is also intimate with the medium shots and close-ups. Even in some striking compositions and stylistic shots in the way he play into people meeting with one another as well as some of the humor that is created in scenes that has Stallworth talking the KKK on the phone as if he wants to join.
Lee’s direction also play up into the idea of Blaxploitation as an idea of African-American identity as well as the fascination of African-American culture from a few of Stallworth’s colleagues including Zimmerman who is a big fan of Willie Mays. While the character of Dumas is someone who has legit reasons for her disdain for cops, she is forced to listen to reason from Stallworth as well as be aware that not all white cops are bad. Especially as someone like Zimmerman has to listen to anti-Semitic rhetoric from Kendrickson and take it though Zimmerman admits to not acting Jewish or practicing Judaism yet does feel the need to stand up to this idea of hate. The film’s climax is unique in the way Lee presents these two different meetings where one involves the KKK and the other meeting involving black students as there’s a great contrast to how they conduct themselves and such.
The film does have an epilogue as it relates to the KKK and how it’s managed to transform into something bigger and more dangerous where despite Stallworth’s effort to make fools out of them and reveal what they’re about. Little has changed with more now trying to stop this idea of hate and bigotry from a group of people who have nothing good to offer to the world. Overall, Lee creates an entertaining yet gripping film about an African-American police officer who would find his way into the Ku Klux Klan and discover the inner-workings of the hateful organization.
Cinematographer Chayse Irvin does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it emphasizes on low-key colors for many of the film’s interior and exterior settings with much of the former using some stylish lights to play into the look that is similar to 1970s cinema. Editor Barry Alexander Brown does brilliant work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts, dissolves, and some split-screen cuts to play into Stallworth’s conversation with Duke on the phone as it help create some comic effects into their conversations. Production designer Curt Beech, with set decorator Cathy T. Marshall and art director Marci Mudd, does amazing work with the look of the police building interiors as well as some of the local places including the home of Kendrickson with his collection of guns and stuff including a lie detector machine as well as the look of the hall where Duke has his ceremony. Costume designer Marci Rodgers does fantastic work with the period costumes that is set in the 70s from the stylish look of Dumas and other students as well as the more ragged look that some of the KKK members wear aside from the KKK robes.
Hair stylist Shaun Perkins, along with makeup artists Janine JP Parrella and Yasmina Smith-Tyson, does wonderful work with the hairstyles and look of the characters as it play into the world of the 1970s including the look of David Duke in the 1970s with his mustache. Visual effects supervisor Randall Balsmeyer does terrific work with the visual effects as it is appears on a few set pieces including in the montage of close-ups during Ture’s speech. Sound editor Philip Stockton does superb work with the sound as it help play into the atmosphere of some of the meetings and rallies as well as some of the intense moments at Kendrickson’s home and in the film’s climax in how the meetings are presented. The film’s music by Terence Blanchard is incredible for its usage of jazz and funk with elements of soul as it help play into the times as it also includes an orchestral piece that play into the drama while music supervisor Rochelle Claerbaut provides a soundtrack that features an array of diverse music from Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose, the Edwin Hawkins Singers, the Temptations, Looking Glass, and a traditional music piece performed by Prince.
The casting by Kim Coleman is great as it feature some notable small roles from Isiah Whitlock Jr. as an African-American official in Mr. Turrentine who works with the police to meet with Stallworth, Nicholas Turturro as a bomb maker named Walker, Frederick Weller as the racist cop Landers, Ashlie Atkinson as Kendrickson’s wife Connie who also hates African-Americans, Michael Buscemi as a cop in Jimmy Creek who helps out Stallworth and Zimmerman, Ken Garito as Sgt. Trapp whom Stallworth and Zimmerman report to as he gets a kick out of Stallworth’s conversations with Duke, and Robert John Burke as Chief Bridges as the Colorado Springs police chief who wants to ensure that Stallworth stays out of trouble as he wants to make sure things go well. The cameo appearances from Alec Baldwin and Harry Belafonte in their respective roles as Dr. Kennebrew Beaureguard and Jerome Turner are superb to play into some of the historical context in what is at stake as Baldwin’s performance is sort of played for laughs while Belafonte is more reserved in how he talks about what African-Americans endured after the Civil War with lynching being common in those days.
Ryan Eggold is terrific as Walter Breachway as the local chapter head of the KKK in Colorado Springs who would be the first to contact Stallworth unaware of his true identity as he’s a more level-headed person who wants nothing to go wrong. Paul Walter Hauser is fantastic as the dim-witted Ivanhoe as a KKK member who often says dumb things while always saying some unintentionally funny stuff. Jasper Paakkonen is excellent as Felix Kendrickson as a wildcard member of the KKK who is always suspicious of those who want to join the KKK as it’s a darkly comical performance that is full of energy and wit. Corey Hawkins is brilliant in his small role as civil rights activist Kwame Ture as a man who wants to help his community though he is aware of the police brutality that he and others are dealing with but also hoping to make some kind of change. Topher Grace is amazing as David Duke as the infamous Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who is trying to make the organization look friendlier but also has this dark idea of what he wants America to be like.
Laura Harrier is marvelous as Patrice Dumas as a student union president for Colorado College as she is trying to get people together to rally against some of the oppression other students face while starting to become less political upon meeting Stallworth as she shows a more human side. Adam Driver is incredible as Flip Zimmerman as a Jewish cop who becomes Stallworth’s face in his infiltration of the KKK where he gets a closer look to what he sees as well as be disturbed by its idea of hate. Finally, there’s John David Washington in a phenomenal breakthrough performance as Ron Stallworth as an African-American rookie cop who finds an ad from the KKK and ends up infiltrating the KKK via phone as it’s a charismatic and grounded performance where he provides some humor but also an idea of what is at stake for himself and everyone who just wants to bring good to the world.
BlacKkKlansman is a tremendous film from Spike Lee that features great performances from John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, and Topher Grace. Along with its ensemble cast, stylish visuals, compelling script, and an incredible music score and soundtrack. It’s a film that captures a moment in time when an African-American would find himself in an organization that provides hate and fear in the hope he can put a stop to them even if it’s something small despite the fact that it would escalate into something far worse. Notably as it’s a film that showcases what hate can bring and how a man is willing to put a stop to it for the good of the world. In the end, BlacKkKlansman is a magnificent film from Spike Lee.
Related: Birth of a Nation
Spike Lee Films: (She’s Gotta Have It) – (School Daze) – Doing the Right Thing - Mo' Better Blues - Jungle Fever - (Malcolm X) – Crooklyn - (Clockers) – (Girl 6) – (Get on the Bus) – 4 Little Girls - (He Got Game) – Freak - Summer of Sam - (The Original Kings of Comedy) – (Bamboozled) – (A Huey P. Newton Story) – 25th Hour - (Jim Brown: All-American) – (She Hate Me) – (Inside Man) – (When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts) – (Miracle at St. Anna) – (Kobe Doin’ Work) – (Passing Strange) – (If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise) – (Red Hook Summer) – Bad 25 - Mike Tyson: The Undisputed Truth - (Oldboy (2013 film)) – (Da Blood of Jesus) – (Chiraq) – Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall - Da 5 Bloods - (American Utopia)
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I'm going to see this on Monday, I'm super excited that my theater got it. Great review!
Great review. I really enjoyed this film and loved seeing Spike back in form. Those last five minutes, man. Such enthralling work.
@Brittani-Awesome, hope you enjoy it.
@Alex-This is for me, Spike's best feature film since 25th Hour and definitely a major return to form. Yet, he also doesn't shy away from the fact that not much has changed since the 1970s and it's gotten worse. I'm glad he was willing to show that these ideas of white power and any kind of racial force is just really a lost cause.
I already loved the film, but the tie-in at the end really got to me. You could see it coming too, with subtle and not so subtle "foreshadowing."
@Jay-The ending is powerful as were some of the things the KKK was saying as it did bring some uncomfortable laughter at the screening I was in which was largely African-American and we laughed and then were like... "oh shit". I love the fact that Spike Lee isn't afraid to go after this and that and show that we as a people haven't really done much to make things better.
And I love how naive Ron can be- it really allows for some exciting foreshadowing.
@Jay-Exactly. I feel like this is a film that every American should see whether you're black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever. It play into who we are as people and what we need to do to stop this idea of hate.
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