HOLLYWOOD—Spike Lee, I was first introduced to this cinematic auteur as an undergraduate studying film. One of the first films I ever watched of his was the film “Do the Right Thing.” It was a stirring piece of cinema that held a level of importance during the late 80s that I wasn’t quite aware of at the time. Since that flick, Lee has raked up an eclectic list of films as a director, but I always feel so many of them are misses. His latest outing, “BlacKkKlansman” has the making of what could have been an exceptional piece of cinema, but I have major qualms with this movie that annoyed me.
It’s hard to pinpoint the genre on this flick which I would elude to a very dark comedy, more like a dramedy. It stars John David Washington, the son of Oscar-winner Denzel Washington. I had the slightest clue that this guy was the son of one of the greatest living actors on this planet. He absolutely carries his own in this movie and is one of the reasons the film entertains. He is the glue that tries to hold a script together, that ultimately fails because the narrative loses its focus. Washington portrays Ron Stallworth, the first African-American police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Washington’s arrival sets the stage for most of the story to transpire in the film. Look we cannot sugarcoat the situation that this film deals with racism and how while quite prevalent in the 70s, is just as prevalent if not more today. There is an interesting relationship between Stallworth and Patrice Dumas (Laurier Harrier), a member of the Black Student Union at Colorado College that you could argue is an important catalyst for the film. I like the element that Lee portrays of Stallworth’s ability to deal with the pressing workroom dynamics without flipping a handle; while the audience has no idea if this is 100 percent accurate, you’re buying what is being sold to you up to this point.
The meat of the story doesn’t transpire until Stallworth decides to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan after seeing an advertisement. This is an amazing turn of events because it forces members of Stallworth’s unit to take him seriously and they become entangled in his web. This especially holds true for Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), who is at first apprehensive about infiltrating the KKK as Stallworth. Topher Grace is an actual hoot to watch as David Duke, a quirky man who is so revered, but at the same time quirky and comedic to a point that you never understand why he was such a threatening figure in American history.
It quickly becomes evident it’s not his presence, but his charisma to have people follow every word he speaks as gospel and the absolute truth, even though it’s not. This is where the narrative takes a turn for the worst in my opinion because some of the antics just don’t add up, you don’t believe what you are witnessing; it’s too far-fetched and at times quite silly. I felt to a degree a mockery was being made of the KKK, and I don’t think that was Spike Lee’s intention at all. I get sprinkling comedy on a dark subject matter lessens the blow, but it’s a line that has be carefully treaded.
The ending of “BlacKkKlansman” left me floored and the fact that Lee as a director doesn’t trust his material enough to understand the audience gets what is taking place totally causes the movie to fall apart for me. I don’t need to be told racism still lives today, all you have to do is turn on the TV and watch the local news or national news or read the newspaper and you know how bad race relations are. This movie has all the elements to be a phenomenal movie, but certain things are put into the mix that totally takes a somewhat solid flick to falter and fall into pieces. It’s not a terrible movie, but in my perspective for Lee it is not “Do The Right Thing.”