Movie review: Spike Lee takes aim at racism — and scores — in ‘BlackKklansman’

Adam Driver and John David Washington play the in-person and the phone-only version of Ron Stallworth. [Focus Features]

Six months ago, I wrote a middling review on “Black Panther,” a superhero movie that struck a chord with both black comic book fans and underserved black audience. It was not just my opinion, but a fact that “Black Panther” made almost half a billion dollars worldwide and ended up making ton of money. The formula of making a competent superhero movie resonated with me and came across as an exercise in appealing to a minority audience.

By individuals with racist or prejudiced beliefs, as well as many supporters of Donald Trump, this work will not receive attention or will be ridiculed (without even being acknowledged), but it will be praised by loyal fans and curious, receptive viewers — regardless of their race — let me make a prediction: “BlackKklansman,” an outstanding and impressive achievement from Spike Lee, a filmmaker with a unique perspective who has experienced both successes and failures, and has, on numerous occasions, been labeled as an enraged African American, which leads us to the present moment.

At the center of its topic, racism, this movie showcases a mixture of good cops, bad cops, rednecks who hate black people and Jews, forward-thinking students, and the inherent evil of the Ku Klux Klan. However, amidst its intense seriousness, it also provides a well-placed sense of humor — it’s easy to forget how funny Spike can be — which helps to make it one of his most accessible and entertaining movies.

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Ron, who is slowly catching the message of a speaker’s future revolution, keeps shifting his cameras from shots of students in the audience to wiretapping Ron’s car squad of cops, engaging and powerful lecture. Spike shows off his filmmaking skills tactfully in this early segment.

This is just an introduction to the main story, where Ron is being transferred. He goes to a store where he sets up a complicated sting on a local branch of the KKK, involving shifting his voice to an English accent called “King’s.” He also makes contacts by phone and pairs up with fellow officer Zimmerman Flip, while attending in-person meetings with Klan members. Adam, who pretends to be Ron, also attends these meetings while pairing up with Zimmerman Flip.

On the way to telling all of this, we are introduced to Felix (Jasper Paakkonen), a racist monster, and his unpleasant, suffering wife Connie (Ashlie Atkinson); Patrice (Laura Harrier), a romantic interest for Ron; Topher Grace gives a lowkey but powerful performance as the vile and charming KKK Grand Wizard David Duke; there is frequent use of the N-word; and the ’70s soundtrack is fantastic, filled with pop-soul songs (there are too many to mention).

Spike’s filmmaking prowess is evident in his ability to fluidly tell a multi-layered story, capturing the attention of both the actors and the audience. In addition to his directorial skills, he also skillfully incorporates examples of his filmmaking prowess. He compassionately and quietly recalls the sobering memory of a lynching, portrayed by the talented Harry Belafonte, juxtaposing it with a scene of a hate-fueled initiation ceremony at the school. Spike’s storytelling is fluid and complex, showcasing his directorial talent.

Spike, in “BlackKklansman,” manages to give the film something of a positive ending, despite the tension building up near the conclusion. He uses incidents in Charlottesville, featuring wake-up calls and slap-in-the-face moments, to showcase the voice and face of Trump. Even though his fellow scriptwriters struggle to find a way to give the film a positive ending, Spike finds a way to fuse all the lurches from the ’70s with today, creating an unbearable tension that leads to a short fuse.

– Ed Symkus writes about films for More Content Now. He can be contacted at esymkus@rcn.Com.

“BlackKklansman”.

Authored by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee.

Helmed by Spike Lee.

Starring John David Washington, Adam Driver, and Topher Grace.

Rated R.