(director/writer: Spike Lee; screenwriters: David Rabinowitz/Charlie Wachtel/Kevin Willmot/based on the book Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth; cinematographer: Chayse Irvin; editor: Barry Alexander Brown; music: Terence Blanchard; cast: John David Washington (Ron Stallworth), Laura Harrier (Patrice Dumas), Adam Driver (Flip Zimmerman), Alec Baldwin (Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard), Topher Grace (David Duke), Jasper Pääkkönen (Klansman Felix), Robert John Burke (Chief Bridges), Michael Joseph Buscemi (Jimmy Creek), Corey Hawkins (Kwame Ture), Ryan Eggold (Walter Breachway), Paul Walter Hauser (Ivanhoe), Ashlie Atkinson (Connie Kendrickson), Frederick Weller (Patrolman Andy Landers) Harry Belafonte (Jerome Turner); Runtime: 135; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Spike Lee/Jason Blum/Raymond Mansfield/Shaun Redick/Jordan Peele/Sean McKittrick; Focus Features; 2018)
“As polemical as you would expect from the black political activist director.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A Spike Lee (“Do The Right Thing”/”Malcolm X”) not too subtle propaganda film on racism that’s as polemical as you would expect from the black political activist director and at times, though it hits the mark on bigots (including the racist Trump regime), is too simplistic in its caricatures and provocations.
It’s based on the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington-son of Denzel), the first African-American cop on the Colorado Springs police force because the affirmative-action program made it possible to openly recruit minority applicants. It shows how in 1979 Ron infiltrated the local Ku Klux Klan. It’s adapted by Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott from Stallworth’s book “Black Klansman.”
The film opens with a clip from the 1939 Civil War epic Gone With the Wind. It follows with a few racist scenes from D.W. Griffith’s 1915 silent epic The Birth of a Nation. It ends with the present-day (2017) showdown between white nationalists and protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. It links the bigoted Trump comments of his “blame on both sides” ugly retort to the violent march to show racist America has changed little over the years–which if true is at least arguable. The rookie cop Ron gets involved in the undercover operations of his police department, as his assignment following being a clerk in the records room. He talks the police chief (Robert John Burke) to let him infiltrate the KKK (called “the Organization”). While on assignment taping the Black Panthers, Ron falls for Patrice (Laura Harrier), the righteous leader of the black student movement, who is unaware he’s one of the pigs wearing a wire to the black radical student meetings. Ron encounters the violent KKK member Felix (Jasper Paakkonen) by phone, after using his white voice to answer a recruitment newspaper ad for the hate group. Summoned for an in-person meeting, his place is taken by the white Jewish undercover cop Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). Watching them work the sting together becomes the gist of the film. It elicits a few funny moments, such as Ron in a phone conversation with the KKK Imperial Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace) and goofing on him with the police eavesdropping, and the risky moments with Flip and the hateful Holocaust denier Felix, as Flip by disagreeing with him in a gut-wrenching response claims the Holocaust was a beautiful moment to be proud of –so why deny it.
Though based on a true story, the film plays loosely with some of the facts. The incident took place in real-life in 1972, the white police officer partner was not Jewish and his identity was never revealed, and the film embellishes some events of the book for dramatic effect.“Black KKlansman” won the Grand Prix at Cannes.
REVIEWED ON 12/3/2018 GRADE: B