★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki
Racism never ended in this country. We may like to think it did when the Civil Rights Act was passed, or when Barack Obama was elected President. But it never ended. It may have become less overt, but it never ended. But in the era of Trump, racism has been more overt, more politicized, & even more deadly.
BlacKkKlansman may have been set in the 1970s, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have any relevance now. It's poignant, timely, & above all, the best film of 2018. Based on the 2006 autobiography Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth, & set in 1970s Colorado Springs, Colorado, the film follows Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington), who is hired as the first African-American police officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Chief Bridges (played by Robert John Burke) assigns him to the records room, where he is met with racism from fellow officers, especially from Patrolman Andy Landers (played by Frederick Weller).
Stallworth, displeased with the small amount of work he is given, asks to be given an undercover assignment, which Chief Bridges & Sgt. Trapp (played by Ken Garito) initially decline, but eventually accept his request. His first assignment is to infiltrate a meeting of the Colorado College Black Student Union, where Kwame Ture, AKA Stokely Carmichael (played by Corey Hawkins) is scheduled to speak. While at the event, Stallworth meets Patrice Dumas (played by Laura Harrier), the president of the BSU. Almost immediately, there is an attraction between them, although Patrice, who despise the police force, doesn't know of Stallworth's occupation.
After the event, Stallworth is reassigned to the intelligence division. One day, while reading the newspaper, Stallworth comes across an ad for the Ku Klux Klan with a P.O. Box number & a phone number. He dials the number, pretending to be white, but leaves a message. Not too long after, he receives a phone call from Walter Breachway (played by Ryan Eggold), the president of the Colorado Springs KKK. Stallworth then tells him he hates anyone that doesn't have pure white blood, listing every racial slur in the book, & then making up a story of how his (fictional) sister was accosted by an African-American man. Breachway then asks him to come to a local bar on Friday to meet them. The problem is, since Stallworth is African-American, & he used his real name, he would be accosted or worse if he showed up. So, obviously, if there were to be an infiltration, a white police officer would have to go in his place, & that white officer is Det. Flip Zimmerman (played by Adam Driver), who is Jewish, but must obviously hide that. With the help of their colleague, Det. Jimmy Creek (played by Michael Joseph Buscemi), Stallworth & Zimmerman get to getting their story straight, as Stallworth talks to them on the phone, while Zimmerman meets with them in person.
Zimmerman shows up on Friday night, & is introduced to Walter, along with 2 other major members of the local KKK chapter: the menacing Felix Kendrickson (played by Jasper Pääkönen), & the incredibly dumb Ivanhoe (played by Paul Walter Hauser), who implies that there will be an attack coming up soon. Soon after, Zimmerman is introduced to Felix's wife, Connie (played by Ashlie Atkinson), who is just as racist as her husband.
Stallworth & Zimmerman quickly rise through the ranks of the KKK, eventually getting in contact with David Duke (played by Topher Grace), the Grand Wizard of the KKK. But as the attack nears closer, & as David Duke arrives in Colorado Springs, Stallworth & Zimmerman will have to pull off the finishing touches on the investigation & thwart the KKK.
The cast is fantastic. John David Washington is an absolute revelation. He, like his father Denzel, has a lot of range & command on screen, & I think this is just the beginning for him.
Adam Driver is phenomenal. Driver excellently portrays the inner conflict of pretending to hate what he is so excellently.
Topher Grace is spectacular. I'll be honest, I never expected this out of Grace. But in his short screen time, he completely embodies Duke, looking almost exactly like him in the 1970s & portraying how Duke was: someone who seemed like one of the most charming people in the world, but he turned ferocious when race was brought up.
The rest of the cast, especially Harrier, Pääkönen, Hauser, & Atkinson, turn in some great supporting work as well, adding to the strength & depth of the cast.
Spike Lee's direction is excellent. Lee, who hasn't been at his best in a while, returns to his top form here, & is his best film since 2002's 25th Hour. Lee tackles the themes with a lot of ferocity, adds a lot of style, & perfectly balances comedy & drama.
The screenplay by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee is brilliant. The plot feels fresh, the characters are interesting & feel real, & the dialogue, as always for a Spike Lee joint, is lyrical & flat-out amazing.
Chayse Irvin's cinematography is astounding. The color palette is vibrant, & the look of the film is gorgeous. And it isn't a Spike Lee joint be without his famous dolly shot, which is absolutely one of the best dolly shots of his career.
Barry Alexander Brown's editing is phenomenal. The cuts are visceral, flashy, & manage to not feel out-of-place. And the film is perfectly paced.
Marci Rodgers's costume design is amazing. The costumes are vibrant, & have that vivacious, loud look that screams 1970s.
Curt Beech's production design is spectacular. The sets also have that look that just screams 1970s, & are perfectly detailed.
The makeup & hairstyling is fantastic. The hairstyling is so period-accurate, from the large afros to the famous but tacky shaggy & clean-cut hairstyles.
Terence Blanchard's score is phenomenal. Blanchard, a longtime collaborator with Lee, leads the score with a bass guitar that gives the score a jazzy, 1970's feel.
And the soundtrack is terrific. The soundtrack is filled to the brim with classic 1970s songs, such as Too Late to Turn Back Now by Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose, Ball of Confusion by The Temptations, & Lucky Man by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, which all help formulate the setting.
But it's the final moments where BlacKkKlansman shows its urgency. It shows us that we are not done with racism in this country. It shows us, up-close & personal, the tragic effects of racism that occurred just last summer in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the alt-right & Neo-Nazis, feeling outraged by social progress in America, marched upon the town, viciously attacked counterprotestors, & eventually murdered Heather Heyer & injured many others in a senseless car attack. It's very tough seeing this footage, but in a country where racism is becoming more overt & accepted once again, & where our President fails to condemn Neo-Nazis & the alt-right, instead putting blame on "many sides," it's something that we need to see.
This is the best film of the year, & certainly one of the best films I've ever seen. It's a masterclass in fimmaking & acting, & is something that must be seen by all.
BlacKkKlansman was seen by me at an advance screening (with a Q&A with Spike Lee & John David Washington) at the Detroit Film Theatre in Detroit, MI on Saturday, August 4, 2018. It is now in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 135 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout, including racial epithets, & for disturbing/violent material & some sexual references.