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BlacKkKlansman Review

By Kelson Howerton
On September 10, 2018
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Photo Courtesy of The Independent

While film has long been a medium for exploring political issues through biting social commentary layered in between the entertainment, the past few years has seen a resurgence in films exploring the deep racial divide still plaguing America. From Jordan Peele’s breakout horror success “Get Out” last year, to the equally inventive “Sorry to Bother You” and “Blindspotting” this year, the film industry has saw fit to explore different facets of race in modern society and how we still have a way to go to find true equality on all fronts.

 

Spike Lee, a filmmaker known for tackling such issues, has returned with a film telling the ridiculous true story of Ron Stallworth, an African-American cop in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in the 1970s, who helped infiltrate and sabotage the Ku Klux Klan. “BlacKkKlansman” is yet another fantastic exploration of racism in America, except instead of a fictional scenario, this darkly comedic crime drama is grounded in real events, some frighteningly still unfolding today.

 

Starring John David Washington (That’s Denzel Washington’s son) as the first black cop of the Colorado Springs Police Department, “BlacKkKlansman” breaks through its dark themes with witty writing and hilarious performances.

 

Washington shines in his first lead role in a film, carrying “BlacKkKlansman” with his hilarious portrayal of an ambitious cop in a department that is at the very least skeptical of his abilities, and at most just as racist as the antagonists of the film. While this may be his first big role, it will likely not be his last, as Washington proves his talents with an incredibly nuanced performance in a movie that tackles a wide range of tones across its just over 2-hour runtime.

 

While Ron begins his career working a boring records-room job, he quickly works his way into the department’s intelligence division where he eventually falls into the case of a lifetime – unearthing and taking down the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK. After reading an ad for the hate group in the newspaper, Ron hilariously calls up the KKK and affirms his hatred for any race “that doesn’t have pure white Aryan blood running through their veins,” giving the police an opening into the group with one caveat – the color of Ron’s skin means he can’t actually meet the group, meaning he must find the right white cop for the job.

 

Ron’s endeavors are joined by two other cops, including perhaps the biggest star of the cast, Adam Driver, as Flip Zimmerman, a Jewish cop that plays the white counterpart to Ron Stallworth during the face-to-face meetings with the klan. While he is most known for playing the emo Sith wannabe Kylo Ren in the newest suite of mainline “Star Wars” films, Adam Driver has once again proven his talent for comedic timing with yet another role giving the actor the opportunity to flex his funny muscles. Together, Washington and Driver fill the film with laughs as the African American and Jewish cop fool the KKK time and time again.

 

On the whiter side of the cast sits Topher Grace as David Duke, the still living former leader of the KKK. Despite the horrible realities of this individual, Grace brings this character to life in a believable way, illustrating a man who sought to modernize the group by bringing their racist fight to politics and public office rather than violent action (although all of his followers in the film don’t give up on the latter).

 

Ron and Flip’s work to infiltrate the KKK is the highlight of the film as the pair build relationships with the group by phone and in person. The combined Ron Stallworth becomes such a popular member of the KKK that Ron even gets the chance to regularly speak over the phone with Duke, resulting in some of the greatest laughs of the film as Ron sits through Duke explaining how to tell the difference between a white voice and a black voice, an art he clearly has not mastered.

 

While the KKK is the main focus of Ron’s work, he is also tasked with investigating Colorado College’s Black Student Union chapter and its black power rallies. As Ron strikes up a relationship with the members of the group, especially the organization’s president Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), “BlacKkKlansman” explores two opposing views of how to address the problem of racism in America as Ron is torn between his duties as a police officer and his realities as an African American.

 

Ron sees the blatant racism of members of the police force firsthand, yet he still stays hopeful that he and others can change the organization from the inside. Patrice, on the other hand, believes the corruption is too widespread to be changed, and the whole system must be overturned for blacks in America to truly find equality. This difference of perspective divides Ron and Patrice just as it divides many in America today.

 

And thus is the crux of “BlacKkKlansman,” a film of diverging views and diverging tones, shifting between comedy and drama as often as it shifts between opposing perspectives. While an overtly political biographical dramedy that even goes as far as to give commentary on today’s political landscape could have resulted in a heavy-handed and preachy film with ham-fisted comparisons, Lee expertly handles the sensitive issues with a stylishly shot and edited film that is as funny as it is thought-provoking. All wrapped up with a powerful ending that brings the issues of Stallworth’s days in the force directly to modern day, “BlacKkKlansman” is a comedic masterpiece that blurs the lines between relevant and ridiculous, hilarious and haunting.

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