BlacKkKlansman is the true story of an African-American police officer who successfully infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the late 70s. While it’s directed by Spike Lee, it feels more like a traditional film rather than a Spike Lee Joint. There’s a moderate amount of humor, and quite a few high points throughout the film, but it misses the beat more than a few times. Let’s dive into the depths of the KKK with our BlacKkKlansman review.
While BlacKkKlansman is based on a true story, the film feels more like satire in many ways. It opens with Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) interviewing for the position of the first African-American police offer at the Colorado Springs police department. This leads to a lackluster starting position in the evidence room before Stallworth is finally given the opportunity to go undercover when a local Black student union hosts activist, Kwame Ture, as a speaker.
Washington plays Stallworth in a very straightforward manner. It’s almost the exact opposite of his breakout roll in HBO’s Ballers as NFL wide receiver, Ricky Jerret. There’s a small touch of swagger, but overall Stallworth feels like the perfect candidate for the first Black police officer in Colorado Springs. He’s good at fitting in, but when he’s around the head of the Black student union, Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), he kicks up the swagger a notch to blend in with her group.
The many interactions with the Klan are the bright points of the film. With each interaction something entertaining or eye-opening is said or done. While Stallworth handles all phone communication with the Klan, fellow officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) handles all in-person interactions. Driver has already proven he has great range as an actor, and that trend continues with his role in BlacKkKlansman. His character arc is easily the highlight of the film, as he starts off as a fairly non-religious Jewish officer, but becomes more impassioned as he spends time with both Stallworth and members of the Klan.
There’s a moderate amount of comic relief in the film, but nothing that’s too overbearing or takes away from the story. Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser), one of the Klansmen in the film, is the main source of comedy through his sheer ignorance. Meanwhile, Stallworth’s many phone calls with David Duke (Topher Grace), head of the Klan, are some of the most humorous portions of the film. While BlacKkKlansman isn’t a comedy, these characters help add levity to what would otherwise be a very serious film.
While the acting is a high point in the film, it’s not enough to overcome some of the odd choices made with both the script and story in general. There are times when it feels as though the film is dragging or has lost its way. It’s not always clear what the intent is, and some things are built up throughout the film, but then fail to impress when the payoff comes. These issues don’t make for a bad film, but they definitely hold BlacKkKlansman back from something greater than it currently is.
As it stands, BlacKkKlansman is a fairly entertaining look at racism in the late 70s. It pulls back the curtain on how local branches of the Klan handled themselves and sheds light on issues of race relations then and now. While it’s not a traditional Spike Lee Joint, the famed director does add his typical flare at the very end, just before the credits roll. This is actually the most powerful statement of the film, as it directly connects the events of the late 70s with the current political climate in America, showing that very little has changed. Although Washington, Driver and Grace perform admirably, this isn’t a film you need to catch in theaters, but it’s definitely worth a watch at some point in the future.
Synopsis: Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado, successfully managed to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan and became the head of the local chapter.
Director: Spike Lee
Writers: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz
Stars: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier
Runtime: 2 Hours, 15 Minutes