THREE AND A HALF STARS A black cop and his Jewish colleague infiltrate the Klu Klax Klan.
John David Washington, Adam Driver
COMEDY DRAMA #BLACKKKLANSMAN
Here’s a story: a newly minted black policeman joins the local chapter of the Klu Klax Klan. Before long, he’s having his picture taken with the Grand Wizard himself. Unbelievable? It would be, if it wasn’t true. It’s the early 1970’s in an age when identity could be kept under wraps (remember that?), Ron Stallworth phones the Klan on a whim and convinces them he’s the real deal (phoney Ron hates everyone and dreams of a white America). His Jewish colleague Flip Zimmerman is reluctantly sent in to do the face-to-face meetings and together they work the chapter until Ron becomes a bone-fide member. He’s also learned of plans to set off a bomb.
BLACKkKLANSMAN is being heralded as a ‘return to form’ for esoteric filmmaker Spike Lee. It’s certainly a potent piece, with indigestible racism served up as comedy, only to be turned back on its audience for us to choke on. It’s also a wildly uneven film that frustrates as much as it entertains - but then, that’s always been a Lee signature. In some ways he is on form, in many more he is not.
Led by compelling newcomer John David Washington and the always watchable Adam Driver as Zimmerman, the pair are an eye-catching combination. They handle both drama and comedy with ease, and keep the film bubbling along. The problems lie in protracted scenes whose length add nothing to the film nor its themes. Lee’s unwillingness to edit unbalances the narrative and erodes our focus: are we meant to laugh at the bumbling klansmen, or be horrified by them? Perhaps both, and his unwillingness to come down hard on what type of film he’s making chips away at its integrity. He can’t have it both ways. Or three ways, if you consider the unexpected and, frankly, cheap ending.
Whether you see it as a master stroke or an unearned convenience, it is undoubtedly the most powerful moment in the film. One that ultimately undoes everything that went before.