In 1979, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), an African-American police officer from Colorado, successfully manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan and becomes the head of the new local chapter - with surprising results. (Based on a true story.)
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Spike Lee is a political activist and 'jive artist' of note so you would not be surprised that Blackkklansman is not just strong cinema but strong on propaganda, too. Perhaps Lee harangues the audience too much, too long, lays it on too thick; perhaps he falls into the fashionable socio-political trap of juxtaposing current President Donald Trump - by innuendo - as a white supremacist in the old mould, which seems a bit hysterical. But if you can absorb these polemicist elements, the film tells a great story with some verve. And fun, even.
At its core, the film tells the (largely) true and jaw dropping story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a plucky young black American in the era of Shaft and other blaxploitation movies, who talks himself into undercover work in the Colorado police. Unlikely as it sounds, he convinces his chief to let him infiltrate the KKK, which has rebadged itself as The Organisation, but hasn't abandoned its vicious racism. In the process, Ron meets and falls for Patrice (Laura Harrier), leader of the black student movement. He also encounters the suspicious, hard edged, violent KKK member Felix (Jasper Paakkonen, allowed to overact like a boo-hiss villain).
Of course while black Ron can pretend to be a hate filled white man on the phone, he can't personally attend KKK meetings nor meet their visiting leader, David Duke (Topher Grace, excellent). That's where fellow officer, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver, terrific) comes in as his body double. This is a high risk investigation and one that in real life was hidden from the public for 20 years. We're really glad it's now out in the open. That Lee uses it to make anti-racist capital out of it is understandable. Hard core racism - real racism as depicted in America's recent past and still alive in some hearts - is too ugly to allow and as the film shows, responding to it with hate is the wrong answer.
Review by Louise Keller:
Intelligent, disturbing and often hilarious, Spike Lee's film is both political and entertaining. This is indeed a case of truth being stranger than fiction, and the adaptation of Ron Stallworth's book is brought to the screen with great bravura. Bookended by confronting evidence of racism in America today, the mainstay of the film recounts the astonishing true tale of an Afro American (John David Washington), who sweet talks his way into undercover work for the Colorado police force and infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan.
Afro is the key word, here. The afro 'do' is a statement in itself: an impressive black halo reminiscent of the Mod Squad look back in the 70s, when Blaxploitation movies like Shaft were in their prime. The fact that Adam Driver's colleague Flip is recruited to be his body double when confronting 'the Organisation' (as the KKK is called), is a wonderful conceit. Driver, with his hangdog features and lanky physicality is terrific here and steals the film. Washington plays it cool and the scenes on the phone in which he demonstrates his ability to fool even KKK head David Duke (Topher Grace, excellent) that he does not 'talk black' are uproariously funny.
The cast is handpicked and watch for Harry Belafonte and Alex Baldwin as you've never seen him before.
In a way, I enjoyed the film more in hindsight, when the ideas and boldness of the exposition are foremost. It plays a little long and drags in parts. It is a pity, when so much of the exaggerated action flies. The bookends might have worked better had they been broken up with (say) some pop art imagery before the confronting news images of Trump's world today are shown.
This is Lee's best film for a long time and one that lassos the topic of white supremacy and racism in a highly entertaining way.
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CAST: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Laura Harrier, Alex Baldwin, Paul Walter Hauser, Ryan Eggold, Corey Hawkins, Robert John Burke, Jasper Paakonen, Harry Belafonte, Michael Buscemi, Ashlie Atkinson
PRODUCER: Spike Lee, Jason Blum, Raymond Mansfield, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele, Shaun Redick
DIRECTOR: Spike Lee
SCRIPT: Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, Kevin Wilmott (book by Ron Stallworth)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Chayse Irvin
EDITOR: Barry Alexander Brown
MUSIC: Terence Blanchard
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Curt Beech
RUNNING TIME: 132 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 16, 2018