BlacKkKlansman is the latest film made by Spike Lee, and without the doubt, it his best work in years. The story is as straightforward as it is absurd. A black cop, the very first one in town, wants to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. And just to make things more interesting, this is a true story, this actually had happened. Now, the story unfolds in the 70-s, but it could have been easily told in any era, present day included. And with some clever drop of lines that have become so emblematic to the recent years, it really does feels more like something from the recent headlines, instead of some crazy story from way back when our parents were kids. But make no mistake, this is not your regular buddy cop movie that the trailer might make you think it is.
But first, let’s talk talent. The protagonist, Ron Stallworth, is played by John David Washington. Now if you are asking yourself if he has anything to do with Denzel Washington, then the answer is yes, yes, he does. He is his son. Fortunately for us, the apple did not fall far from the tree, and the kid has the talent and not just the name. But it is strange experience, or at least it was for me. I was looking at the screen, I heard Denzel’s voice, felt his charisma, his swagger, but I did not saw Denzel, but some other, younger, hipper dude. But yes, young Washington here is something that needs to be followed. It is possible that we are witnessing the birth of the first black actor’s dynasty in Hollywood. After the Douglas, Sutherland, Baldwin and other clans, now the Washington’s also put up their flag.
In a supporting role, both on screen and in story, we find Adam Driver, who plays Flip Zimmerman, the police officer who teams up with Stallworth in his endeavor of infiltration. Driver brings his usual, solid performance. What is more remarkable is that in a relative short amount of time he managed do work with basically the who’s who of Hollywood directors, from the Cohen brothers to Scorsese, and has assembled quite a body of work in the process. Last, but not least, we have Topher Grace as David Duke, the head of the KKK. Grace has the thankless task of portraying a real-life character who is still alive, and who is considered to be by many, a proper, real life villain. To his credit, Grace pulls it off in a way that allows him to give a great performance but without being identified with the actual, real life persona of his role.
And now, onto our director. One of Spike Lee’s major themes, through his body of work, is the struggle of the black man. Their struggle against society, racism and injustice. It is one of his defining creative motivations, so to speak. What is different here is the way he applies the theme. Based on the trailer, one would say that this is a buddy cop movie. And for most of the runtime, one would be correct. Yes, the plot is about a black man against the klan, but the movie is not gritty, not dark. It is light hearted, comical even. You will have quite some laughs during the screening. Yes, you see that things were not good for blacks back then, but it does not insist about it at every corner. The story goes with a good, steady pace, like your good guys and you like to dislike the bad guys, and then the story concludes with a fitting and believable ending, even more so that it is a true story. But then Spike Lee throws in a coda, which changes everything. I was aware of the existence of the coda and what it was before I went to see the movie, but it still felt like a punch in the gut. The coda is basically a montage of clips shot during the marches at Charlottesville in 2017. How the white supremacists marched with torches, how a car straight on plowed full speed into a mass of people that were peacefully counter protesting racism. And while in the movie the klan members and their actions were portrayed in a goofy manner, the sudden switch to reality comes unexpected and it is gut-wrenching. The entire thing will make you feel a bit guilty for the good time you were having during the movie. And it will make you ponder. Spike Lee admitted during the press Q&A for the movie in Cannes, that the coda was not originally part of the film. By the time of the events in Charlottesville, the movie was already completed. But when Lee saw what had happened, he realized that this needs to be put in the movie, so that people know that the issues in the film have not gone away, but they are still present and only getting worse.
I am not happy with Lee’s choice of including the coda. I do not live in the USA and I like to think that here, in Europe, things are better. I also did not like how after the coda my fun Saturday evening has suddenly turned serious and was filled with introspection. Which only proves the point that Lee was right. That footage was absolutely necessary at the end of the movie.