BlacKkKlansman ***

Director Spike Lee’s film is a bit long at 135 minutes, but it’s also nicely acted and well told. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

On its own, “BlacKkKlansman” is nicely acted, dramatically engaging, and visually interesting. It’s a good movie. This review is on the basis of those attributes, though it’s clear director Spike Lee is aiming for far more profound (i.e. anti-right) social commentary, and he no doubt alienates half of the potential audience as a result.

Many movies are intended as escapism; “BlacKkKlansman” is the exact opposite. Set in the early ‘70s, it follows a police officer in Colorado Springs named Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, Denzel’s son). Trying to prove himself as a detective, he calls the phone number included in a newspaper recruitment ad for the Klu Klux Klan. He’s convincing. They like him. They want him. He’s African-American.

The ruse begins: Ron and his Jewish colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), attempt to join the KKK. Ron handles the phone calls, Flip appears in person. Their sergeant (Ken Garito) and chief (Robert John Burke) agree to the investigation in the hope of exposing potential crimes before they happen. The bulk of the suspense lies in Flip hanging with the KKK, hoping they don’t find out he’s not who he says he is, and hoping they don’t find out he’s Jewish.

The KKK guys aren’t dumb caricatures, which is important: If they were fools we wouldn’t be able to take them seriously, and if we couldn’t do that there would never be a sense of danger for Flip when he’s with them. Thankfully Walter (Ryan Eggold), the head of the local chapter, and the fastidious and untrusting Felix (Jasper Paakkonen), are all business (there is one buffoon among them, however – the portly Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser) is depicted as little more than a racist goof).

Eventually Ron on the phone, and Flip in person, get to meet Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace), and when they do the plot twists and danger amp up to an explosive ending. Lee includes his standard stylistic flourishes, such as the floating camera, and obviously the racism we’re used to in his movies is omnipresent. More importantly, he imbues the proceedings with a cryptic sense of fun, not at the KKK’s members’ expense, but at the absurdity of the entire situation. You’ll like Ron and Flip, and because you can laugh with them as well, the movie works.

To those who say “BlacKkKlansman” is “important,” and that everyone “should” see it, check yourself. What’s important to you may not be important to others, and the reasons you think someone “should” see it may be the same reasons someone else hates it. Historically, movies have had the power to sway social belief, at least to some extent, but rarely has society been this politically polarized. And when there’s such a stalemate that one side doesn’t want to listen to the other, let alone believe anything the other is saying, it’s a stretch to assert that seeing “BlacKkKlansman” will have an impact on politics. It may, but it’s more likely that it will not.

So what are we left with? A movie that is legitimately well made and acted, and tells a compelling story. Just don’t expect it to be an escape from…anything.

Did you know?
The film won the Grand Prix award at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival; it is the second most prestigious award (after the Palm d’Or) that the festival offers.

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