BlacKkKlansman is a terrifically timely movie, and although the film’s primary motivation seems to be drawing comparisons between its historical context and today’s world, it has the benefit of telling a wild true story story that seems stranger than fiction. Although a undercover crime thriller like this seems like it’s fit to be a straight up thriller, the film is more about conversations; a majority of the film is stimulating discourse between characters, as well as a seedy exploration into the ugliest side of humanity, and the realism and wit that is found in the film’s script translates into an enthralling film.
Based on a true story, BlacKkKlansman follows Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first black cop on the Colorado Springs Police Force. After contacting members of the Klu Klux Klan over the phone, Stallworth enlists fellow cop Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to impersonate him and infiltrate the organization. Together, the pair is works together to stop a terrorist attack on members of a black student union.
The film embraces the ugliness of the world head on, and the depiction of the intense bigotry of the KKK, as well as the casual racism Stallworth faces from other cops, is difficult to watch at points. This brutality is cleverly interjected with humor, as the ridiculous true story is filled with ironies and often hilarious situations, and Spike Lee plays on all the humor that could be found in this situation. Still, the film doesn’t have any easy answers, and the film features a lot of interesting conversations, from Stallworth’s discussions about trying to change the police force from the inside with a student leader (Laura Harrier) and Zimmerman’s contemplation of his Jewish heritage in the wake of his undercover operations.
John David Washington delivers a star making performance, and although we’re naturally going to be rooting for his character in his noble quest to break barriers in the police force and stop terrorists, Washington maintains a charisma and confidence that makes him electrifying onscreen. Driver is also terrific, and although he doesn’t have any huge scenes, he plays on his character’s moral dilemma in the most subtle of ways. There’s also a standout performance by Topher Grace as David Duke; the film makes a point of making the leader of this horrifying organization more of a sitcom bully than a supervillain, and although Lee makes Duke the butt of many jokes, he remains a disturbing presence, and Grace does a great job at making sure we’re laughing at him, not with him.
The film is slightly too long, and although there are no major subplots that could be removed, some scenes drag on slightly too long. While it is more of a conversation piece, the third act does feature an edge of your seat sequence that’s preceded by some insightful observations about two communities. BlacKkKlansman has a lot to say, but it’s also a very enjoyable ride with characters you can’t help rooting for and some true insights. Grade: A-