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Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

BlacKkKlansman


BlacKkKlansman Review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Because of conflicts, we weren't able to get a quorum to see Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman until Wednesday.  This only whet our appetite even more for one of our most anticipated movies of the year so far.  Afterward, we all had the same reaction anyone who knows our gang would expect: we found it culturally relevant, a film that will be held up in the future as an accusing finger at the political leadership in 2018 America.  Possibly our favorite movie of the year, so far.  That's why we like to wait a few days after the film to let it marinate in our mind before writing a review.  Stepping back provides clarity and perspective.  Given that, and reading a little about Ron Stallworth, we do see a few blemishes that temper our enthusiasm.  To be clear, though, our gang unanimously enjoyed the film.

The set-up:
It's 1972 Colorado, and Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is sworn in as a rookie cop, the first African-American on the Colorado Springs force, fulfilling his lifelong dream.  Ron is enthusiastic and ambitious, agitating to work undercover.  His Chief (Robert John Burke) finally gives in, sending him to monitor a speech by Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins), who has changed his name to Kwame Ture. Ron becomes smitten with the event organizer, Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), in full Angela Davis mode.  Romantic conflict: she hates cops.  Later, as the men in the operation debrief, Ron gets the support of Det. Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) and Jimmy Creek (Michael Buscemi), cementing their mutual trust.  Soon after that (almost seven years, actually), Ron sees a Ku Klux Klan recruitment ad.  On a whim, he calls, and to his surprise, they want to meet him.  There's only one problem: Ron's skin tone.  So, they hatch a plot to have Flip become Ron for the face-to-face meetings, leading us into a standard undercover operation, punctuated by typical Spike Lee lampooning of small-minded yet dangerous bigotry.  We meet a slew of klansmen, from affable group leader Walter (Ryan Eggold) to the psychotic Felix (Jasper Paakkonen).  But Lee saves the best ironies for phone conversations between Ron and David Duke (Topher Grace), the Grand Wizard himself.  As the investivation evolves, the investment of the force intensifies, especially Flip, Jewish by birth only, who learns to appreciate the significance of his culture.  Meanwhile, through his evolving relationship with Patrice, Ron learns more about the Black Power movement.  But the investigation also unwittingly draws the most dangerous elements of the Klan toward Patrice.

Among the many talents Spike Lee possesses is his ability to elicit a visceral response from the audience.  BlacKkKlansman has many such moments, but three stand out: during the stirring Kwame Ture speech (with content taken from actual Carmichael speeches, I am told), the camera scans the audience's faces, fading from one as it focuses in on another, closing in on the pain recalled and the victory foretold; later, Harry Belafonte, an aged activist, with a group of young people relates vividly the horrors of growing up in the Jim Crow South; and an epilogue that jumps forward to the violent 2017 Unite the Right march in Charlottesville and quotes from the President.  Rightfully, Lee portrays Klansmen on a spectrum ranging from buffoonery to vile bigotry; somewhat ideally, he shows African-Americans always in a righteous light.  We have to give him major props for sending a strong message that good cops are the rule, bad ones the exception.

The moral lessons Lee presents are, at times, heavy-handed, the soliloquys overtly inflame our passions; some characters are caricatures. Are these bad things?  They could be in the hands of a charlatan who wishes to indoctrinate through misleading propaganda; Spike Lee, is not a charlatan, nor is he misleading.  True, he is a grand story-teller who uses fictional elements to dramatic effect, but not at the price of the truth.  Ron, for example, performs a climactic heroic act that never occurred in real life, but that vignette is part of the drama that drives the suspense and the story; it's not a twisting of the history.  And if there is one person who shows true bravery in the film, it is Ron's partner, Flip, the Jewish cop who went face-to-face with the Klan, risking exposure every day.  This is in stark contrast to Lee Daniels', The Butler, which implies that a White House servant was responsible for most Civil Rights gains from Kennedy through Reagan; Nor is he Ava Du Vernay, who in Selma falsely portrayed LBJ as anti-Civil Rights.  Spike Lee's dramatic elements do not bend the truth; they provide the glue that binds the facts, driving the cohesive and compelling narrative.   He holds a 40-year old mirror up to America, and it reflects America today.
8.5 on an Entertainment Scale
8.5 on an Artistic Scale (this one will be in the hunt for many post-season awards)

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