BlacKkKlansman, co-written and directed by Spike Lee, is a film that rings loud with the filmmaker’s distinctive voice and approach. Th purpose is undeniable, the boldness unflinching, and the tone in which it approaches its subject is very effective. It’s a film you can’t ignore – it won’t let you – nor should you. But the film’s strict focus does result in other elements of the film not feeling as complete as they should be, and it does result in what feels like an incomplete package. So, the question is: do those issues effect the film in such a way that it fails overall? Could the love of so many critics be misplaced? Let’s find that out and more in my review.
Based upon the true story, we follow Ron Stallworth – played by John David Washington – an African-American police officer who successfully infiltrated the local branch of the Klu Klux Klan in Colorado. It was with the help of Flip Zimmerman – played by Adam Driver – who posed as Stallworth that the two were able to uncover a deadly plot and also take the opportunity to humiliate some of the highest-ranking members in the racist fuelled organisation. It’s one of those crazy real-life stories that has to be seen to be believed.
The approach that director, Spike Lee takes to telling his story is unexpected but effective. I remember when I first saw the trailer for the film and thought that there was no way the tone of the film would ever feel balanced. To tackle the sickening racism of the Klu Klux Klan, while also cracking jokes and exploring what dark comedy can be pulled from such hate, was something I thought would always feel at odds with itself. I was wrong.
Spike Lee is able to strike a faultless balance with the film’s tone and subsequent content. I never felt that scenes were clashing. Going from one scene filled with brazen, distressing racism, to a lighter scene that was positioned to get laughs felt right. It simply worked. I’m not sure how Lee did it so well, but I was very surprised at how well he handled it.
And the comedic tone isn’t just there to get laughs. It plays a vital part in having the more serious moments – the moments that have your gut churning and your brain wanting to flee from the idiotic evil – be all the more effective. While I certainly enjoyed the comedy on offer and found it fun to be surrounded by an audience that was responding really well to the jokes. It was in those chilling moments; the moments where the air was sucked out of the room and the audience was left sitting there in stunned silence that I got the most fulfilment from.
While you’ll certainly be enjoying your time with BlacKkKlansman (I know I did) there is more to this film than achieving some laughs. There is a very clear purpose to this film. It utilises Ron Stallworth’s story to commentate on race issues that are affecting America right now. I will say that Spike Lee approaches this with a hammer rather than a chisel. What I mean by that is that the message is so overt and the methods so obvious, that I found it in turn harmed the film a little. When Lee would make direct reference to President Donald Trump or a recent event in America’s history, it would pull me out of the film… the experience. I’m all for Spike Lee using his films to express his anger and sadness with his country, but I feel to sometimes do it at the films expense is unfair to it in the long run.
I will be interested to see how audiences will respond to BlacKkKansman overall. It’s very in your face and it makes its intentions very clear, and I don’t see that being for everyone. A film with more subtlety is not what people are going to get, despite that maybe being what they were looking for. I suppose that’s maybe why Lee went for the tone that he did. He offsets the brutal honesty of the world today with a little comedy. Plus, there’s a lot of joy to be had in getting to laugh at the stupidity of the KKK.
The minor issues I’ve talked about so far are all very much that: minor. They’re little things that when looking at the film from a top down view didn’t bother me that much. But what did bother me about BlacKkKlansman was its handling of its characters, primarily Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) and Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver).
There is such a focus on the film’s message (which is completely fair) that sadly the primary – and very interesting – characters feel underdeveloped in their own stories. Beyond their work as police officers, Ron and Flip feel lacking in the exploration they need and deserve. Ron’s relationship with Patrice Dumas – played by Laura Harrier – always felt surface level, but there seemed to be so much more there to dive into. Flip seemed to be hiding demons under his confident, jokey exterior. These two characters in particular (and also a few others) were people who I wanted to know more about; who had within them stories that I think would have served to better BlacKkKlansman, but sadly they aren’t given the opportunity to shine.
I understand why, and I accept that had the time been taken to better explore the layers to each of the characters, the films larger and arguably more important purpose would have been side-tracked. That still doesn’t stop me from being disappointed though.
But I do find enjoyment in the fact that the actors playing the leads deliver fantastic performances – and the same can be said for the whole cast. I of course love Adam Driver. He’s one of my favourite actors working in Hollywood right now. I can’t think of a performance of his I haven’t liked. He always gives his all to a role and is an actor who is continually taking on characters that further expand his ever-growing list of outstanding nuanced performances.
But it’s John David Washington who shines brightest in BlacKkKlansman. The moment he steps on-screen, he has this charismatically magnetic presence to him. It’s he who brings you into the story and it is he who is able to lessen the disappointment of the lack of character depth. Without such a strong performance from him and his fellow cast members, I don’t know if I would have felt as positive about this film as I do, which says a lot about the acting in this film.
And this all leads me to think about BlacKkKlansman as a whole. Did it succeed at what it set out to do? As a film – if you were to not consider the politically charged message running through it – does it work? Well… I think what Spike Lee set out to do and the points he wanted to make/tackle are successfully handled. The film succeeds at saying what it wants to say and how it says it. The comedic tone mixed with the brutality of racism somehow ends up being a suitable match for one another. But as a film as a whole, I don’t think the film fully succeeds. There are elements beyond the messaging that don’t feel complete; that left me wanting more. Does that ruin the film? Absolutely not. But it does leave the film not feeling as special or well-rounded as some seem to be suggesting it is. Unfortunately, yes.
Still though, I am more than happy to recommend the film. Those issues don’t stop it from being a film worth seeing. It will have you thinking, it will leave a mark on you, and it will undoubtedly resonate with you in some way.
I’m really eager to hear your thoughts on BlacKkKlansman, so please leave any opinions or feedback that you might have, in the comments section down below. If you liked what you read, may I ask that you consider following both/either my blog and/or my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings? If not, that’s of course totally fine. Anyway, I’ll bring things to a close now by simply, but wholeheartedly, saying thank you to you for taking the time to read my review. I appreciate so much!