Just putting this out there upfront, BlacKkKlansman is one of the hardest films I’ve ever had to review. There is so much that it has to say, so much weight to it, and so much potency and relevance for our times that it seems an injustice to the film to try and condense it into a review. All I can hope for is that this review encourages you to seek it out, because BlacKkKlansman is without a doubt, one of the year’s very best films so far.
Focusing on an unbelievable and frankly downright ludicrous true story of an undercover black cop who manages to infiltrate the notorious Ku Klux Klan, this is a film which simultaneously manages to be faithful both in stylistic choices and cultural nods to its period setting, whilst also remaining terrifyingly current. There is a knowingness to this film, most keenly shown in a conversation between Stallworth (John David Washington) and Sergeant Trapp (Ken Garito), when they discuss the unlikelihood of a known racist ending up in the White House. You’ll find director Spike Lee’s tongue very firmly in his cheek here. However despite this knowingness, this film never feels like it is ramming an agenda down our throats; it is a film with something to say but it also manages to be entertaining and enjoyable.
BlacKkKlansman is wild, outrageous, dangerously funny and full of a sparkling wit which ensures it is never anything short of entertaining. Alongside this, it delivers frequent and ferocious punches to the gut which might make you feel slightly guilty for the outbursts of laughter that precede or follow this. There is intentionality in these tonal shifts though, and where it forces you to jump between humour and outrage, it is through and through a film which makes you feel uncomfortable enjoyment, and this makes for a truly unique and compelling experience.
Speaking of gut punches, the final moments of this film are some of the most powerful and the audience reaction it provoked is unlike anything else I have ever experienced. Immediately following a shot that could have been taken straight out of a 70s blaxploitation film, we’re hurled into the present day and delivered the terrifying notion that not only have things not really changed, in many ways, they are so much worse.
Spike Lee works wonders with this outrageous story, dialling up the ridiculous when it is appropriate to do so, and scaling back when the emotional resonance needs to speak for itself. The cast are equally fantastic, John David Washington and Adam Driver both bring a wonderful duality to their characters, and their interactions are believable and enjoyable to watch. As revolutionary Patrice Dumas, Laura Harrier lights up the screen, and she is a character that is fully interesting in their own right.
BlacKkKlansman is a film which is timely, relevant, and potent, the comedy and darkness expertly layered. It is scathing yet charming, hilarious yet horrifying, and its slow burn tension is staged like a horror film, something which is appropriate given some of the subject matter. This is an important film, and one which deserves to be seen by many. Simply unmissable.
Directed by: Spike Lee
Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Alec Baldwin, Ken Garito