Spike Lee is an enigmatic figure in cinema who has a clear and concise message he wants to send whenever he makes a film, BlacKkKlansman is no different, only this time we are leaning more heavily into comedy than perhaps Spike ever has before.
BlacKkKlansman is an American biographical crime film; it follows the story of a rookie cop named Ron Stallworth as he infiltrates the KKK in order to prevent an impending conflict.
Despite the story being constructed as a classic cop crime film this is a film that goes above and beyond with the messages that it is attempting to voice. This is a film that will speak plainly, firmly, and without subtlety by delving into the subjects of racism, corruption, demonization, and current day politics; yes, it does have its own political viewpoint and it says it plainly. There are messages for those who are minorities or those who have ancestors that were subjected to injustice, or simply, a message for those willing to listen.
This is a film that delves deep into many of the core traits that breed hatred and discontent between groups, whether they be between minorities and authority figures like the disdain between cops and black communities, or the radical white KKK members vs basically everyone who isn’t them. It follows this theme closely by discussing what it means to be a minority or underprivileged, it dissects it to provide a message to the audience.
The lead performance from John David Washington playing Ron Stallworth had range and solidity to it, he provided a character that felt like his own man; an imperfect man but one with a moral code that would stick with him. From his often goofy antics to his sometimes serious demeanor – John David Washington constructs a character that looked as though he was enduring painful inner conflict throughout his journey; ultimately being the right balance for a film of this nature. Additionally we get a splendid performance from Adam Driver as he plays the role of an undercover cop doing the physical infiltration of the KKK throughout the film; he played a far more reserved and controlled individual that was good under pressure. His cool and calm nature begins to show signs of fragility as the investigation becomes increasingly more audacious.
Playing the love interest role and the president of a black pride group is Laura Harrier; though she has less involvement in the films overall story she provides a nicely balanced character that fits towards the films build up and conclusion. As for the more villainous role Finnish actor Jasper Pääkkönen plays one the KKK members; a violent and unpredictable man with a twisted temperament – this Finnish actor certainly went above and beyond in his role to provide someone that truly disgusts the audience.
This film has a visual flow to it that exhibits a lot of the style of the late 1970’s, particularly in its production design. You are provided with some of the best costuming and hair-styling of the year, from the classic form, to the slicked back hair of some of the KKK members; the costuming gives each character their very own sense of style that melds well with the personality that they represent. The camera-work is accompanied with filmic grain throughout, as the entire film was shot on a mix between 16mm and 35mm film stock, giving the image a naturalistic retro tone in its colour palette – few digitally shot films can really match this natural and true to life aesthetic that film stock can provide. We also get some magnificently constructed cinematic shots from beginning to end. This is a visually enthralling film that shows Spike Lee’s skills as a seasoned filmmaker clearer than daylight.
BlacKkKlansmans has a message it wants to send and it tells that message using fantastic film-making. I felt invested in the characters, enjoyed the humour, tension, and overall flow – it’s just a damn well-made film.