Spike Lee has had many ups and downs in his career. He has not been afraid to broach controversial subject matter in controversial ways. He’s a daring filmmaker and sometimes his films have been overwrought with his strong opinions. But when he is on his films soar. It has been a while since I found one of Lee’s films to click on all cylinders, fittingly that film was Inside Man (2006) starring Denzel Washington. His latest starts Denzel’s son, John David Washington and Lee is back to form.
Based on a true story and the 2014 novel by Ron Stallworth, Black Klansman is about a rookie black detective in Colorado Springs who makes contact and infiltrates the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. The complication is he gives his real name on the phone and so a white detective has to pretend to be Stallworth when contacting the Klan in person.
John David Washington plays Stallworth with a very tongue in cheek attitude and comes across very comfortable on screen. Adam Driver plays Detective Flip Zimmerman who pretends to be Stallworth and makes contact with the Klan. Driver is solid as usual especially playing Zimmerman’s slow burn introspection about his own Jewish identity and the threat the Klan represents to him personally. Ryan Eggold (The Blacklist) is very good as the head the local Klan chapter and Topher Grace underplays nicely as grand wizard David Duke.
The film moves along a good crisp clip and is very entertaining. We get the usual Spike Lee flourishes and the script connects nicely with present day politics especially in the last ten minutes when Lee leaves the story behind completely and presents a mini-documentary of the Charlottesville protests of 2017. It is powerful and heart wrenching and it works.
Black Klansman is not a great film but it’s a very entertaining film and it carries a very important and timely message. The performances are solid and the script is straight forward and doesn’t get too cute. A solid effort by Lee and one that may bring about Oscar consideration come January.