BlacKkKlansman depicts a humorous and timely look at race relations in America

In the same week that the President of the United States labeled his black female employee as a “dog”, a film is released that centers around black people fighting against racially-based hate groups. Coincidence? Most likely.

BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee’s eerily timely comedy-drama follows the astounding true story of Ron Stallworth, a black police officer from Colorado who successfully ran an undercover operation to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. If that sounds bizarre, that’s because it is. Like the story it is based on, BlacKkKlansman is an extraordinarily odd combination of elements. Nonetheless, they culminate into a funny and contemplative film that serves as Spike Lee’s comment on Donald Trump and the state of race relations in the United States.

One of the most notable things this movie has is an outstanding cast. I can’t imagine that many actors want to play crazed KKK members, but Jasper Paakkonen, Ashlie Atkinson, and Paul Walter Hauser all sell their roles with the type of eerie friendliness. Such normality is a brutally honest reminder that yes, people did actually think this was normal at some point in the past. Paakkonen and Atkinson in particular were impressive to watch, and at times it seemed like some of their scenes could’ve been taken line for line out of a romance film. This was no doubt the intention of Spike Lee, who sprinkled in several of these tongue-in-cheek references to film cliches across all genres.

As for the righteous (no pun intended) side of the cast, John David Washington did most of the heavy lifting, playing the titular role of the Black KKK Member. His subtle eye twitches and pointed delivery (coupled with a dead-on “white guy voice”) make for some hilarious back and forths. This is especially true when he is on the phone with Topher Grace’s David Duke, who is very obviously Spike Lee’s stand-in for President Trump. While most of Duke’s scenes do land as intended, I found myself wishing  Lee had written the allusions to Trump with a little more subtlety or nuance. While it’s very possible that David Duke did say in a speech that he wanted to “make america great again”, it was hard not to roll my eyes at the blatant shot towards the President.

The lack of subtlety, however, is something that I can’t entirely fault Lee for. There have always been differing opinions as to how to approach the concept of civil rights, and this is a concept that Lee touches on through the inclusion of Laura Harrier’s character and the Black Panthers. Harrier, who plays the president of the black student union at a local college, plays both the love interest and the foil for Ron Stallworth. She isn’t spectacular in her role, but pulls her weight, and gives an interesting female perspective to a male dominated film. The breakout performance in my eyes, however, was Adam Driver as Flip Zimmerman, the Jewish police officer who went undercover as the physical embodiment of Ron Stalloworth’s voice. His scenes with the  anti-semitic Felix Kendrickson (played by the terrifyingly slimy Jasper Paakonen) are heart-pounding to watch, and his quiet but powerfully contemplative scene with Ron near the middle of the film was one of my favorite in recent memory. The inclusion of Zimmerman’s character was a reminder that the KKK spewed hate to not just the black community, but numerous other minority groups as well.

In the end, while BlacKkKlansman could have done without the obligatory passes at President Trump, it was a timely and engaging film that will have you leaving the theatre talking. The raw footage of last year’s Charlottesville protests that roll just before the end credits demolishes any suspension of disbelief the audience might’ve held. However, instead of removing us from the story, Lee reminds us all that even though the film may have taken place over 40 years ago, its message is still incredibly necessary.

4/5 Stars