After tackling the racial divide in America with dramas such as Malcolm X and more comedic ventures like Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee returns with a fusion of these genres to tell the bizarre, true-life story of African-American detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) and his elaborate scheme to infiltrate a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
Stallworth’s grand ruse involves him forming a bond with local Klan members via phone calls, while his partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) acts as a physical representation, manifesting as elusive new KKK member ‘Ron Stallworth’ to gain intelligence on the Klan and their plans for white supremacy.
The sheer insanity of the plot makes for an entertaining film; it’s almost unthinkable that a man armed with a telephone could fool one of the most violent and feared organisations in human history so easily. However, Spike Lee is evidently aware of the absurdity of the situation and doesn’t miss the opportunity to poke fun at the foolishness and naivety of the Klan throughout the film.
Make no mistake, BlacKkKlansman isn’t an unbiased exploration into a strange situation, it is a deeply personal attack on this incredibly racist group that is equal parts amused and disgusted with the Klan’s antics.
There are multiple scenes that feel like they’ve been ripped right out of a comedy, not because the subject matter is funny, but rather because these characters are so utterly outrageous that it’s hard to believe they are real people.
The somewhat light-hearted handling of such characters could easily have crossed the line into being confronting, were it not for fantastic performances from the cast. Washington and Driver have ample chemistry and an evident personal connection with the characters; it’s hard not to be fooled into thinking they are indeed two halves of the same Ron Stallworth. Then there is Topher Grace’s over the top caricature of ‘Grand Wizard’ David Duke, which feels just like a Tarantino villain; one you wholeheartedly despise, yet love every second they’re on the screen.
BlacKkKlansman’s biggest strength is the expert balancing of the gravity of the Klan’s actions as well as the entertainment value that can be squeezed from such a strange situation. Lee does a stellar job of grounding these often far-fetched characters in reality and keeps the story teetering on the brink of feeling like a work of fiction. Moreover, while the film provides plenty of laughs, Lee ensures you’ll leave the cinema with the ever-present racial divide at the forefront.
In cinemas: August 16, 2018
Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier
Directed by: Spike Lee