BlacKkKlansman, rated R
BlacKkKlansman is a well-acted film that is mostly based on an incredible true story. Unfortunately, demonstrating the subtlety of a Michael Moore film, the film tries too hard to connect former Grand Wizard David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) with President Donald Trump. The film is directed by two-time Oscar nominee Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, 4 Little Girls) and is based on the book Black Klansman: A Memoir by Ron Stallworth. The screenplay is written by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Lee. The film had a budget of only $17 million.
Ron Stallworth, played superbly by John David Washington (The Book of Eli, Ballers), the real-life son of Denzel Washington, is the first African American police officer hired by the Colorado Springs Police Department. It is a police department in which racism is prevalent and tolerated.
SPOILER ALERT ***************
Initially placed in a boring position in the Records Department, Stallworth is then given an undercover opportunity in 1972 to attend a rally in which former Black Panther Kwame Ture (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael), played by Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton), is to speak. Outside the venue Stallworth meets Patrice, the President of the Black Student Union, an activist group, played by an Angela Davis look alike Laura Harrier (Spider-Man: Homecoming). Inside the venue, Stallworth, finds himself agreeing with some of what Ture is saying, as he encourages the crowd with chants of “Black Power”. After the meeting, Patrice and others are harassed by the police. Stallworth takes a liking to Patrice, but working undercover, tells her that he works in construction.
Stallworth is then given the assignment to infiltrate the local chapter of the KKK, which is led by Walter, played by Ryan Eggold (Blacklist). Stallworth arranges to meet with Walter, but since he is African American he needs to identify a white police officer to portray himself and meet with him instead. Flip Zimmerman, a Jewish officer played well by three-time Emmy nominee Adam Driver (Girls) is assigned to portray Stallworth. Zimmerman does the job well, earning the confidence of Walter. The KKK members are generally portrayed as cartoonish stereotypes by Lee. Eventually Stallworth, who can speak both “white” and “jive” is talking on the phone to KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, well played by Emmy winner Topher Grace (The Beauty Inside).
At the local level, Walter decides he needs to step down, and proposes that Stallworth, though new to the chapter, take his place. As Stallworth and Zimmerman continue their work together they become aware of a planned KKK attack.
The film makes excellent use of music throughout, including a previously unleased live rehearsal recording of Prince singing “Mary, Don’t You Weep” over the closing credits. Despite the serious nature of the film, it also includes a lot of humor.
An interesting scene showed the juxtaposition of different groups shouting “Black Power” (Black Student Union) and “White Power” (KKK), reminded me of Black Lives Matter and White supremacist groups today. Dialogue coming out of Duke’s mouth included lines very close to Trump’s making America great again and putting America first.
Content concerns include a significant amount of adult language, including several occurrences of the “F” and “N” words. It would be appropriate for older teens and adults.
For the majority of the film, despite the quotes referenced above, the film, particularly the acting of Washington and Driver, was excellent. The film also includes a strong supporting cast. Oscar nominee Alec Baldwin (The Cooler) and 91-year-old Emmy winner Harry Belafonte (The Revlon Revue) appear in small roles. Lee includes some of his classic people-mover camera work in a scene with Washington and Harrier late in the film.
Unfortunately, the film’s ending insults the intelligence of the audience with its “paint by numbers” effort to try to connect Duke with President Trump, using graphic video footage of the 2017 tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia and quotes from President Trump.
BlacKkKlansman, based mostly on a true story, is a film that you may not agree with, but it is certainly thought-provoking. But it’s also not a film that will tend to bring our country together, unlike the film Won’t You Be My Neighbor? As I wrote in my review of that film, one of this year’s best, that film was just the type of film we need today in our divided country.