Film Review Title: BlacKkKlansman / Director: Spike Lee / Released: 2018
There are plenty of false beginning as there are plenty of false endings in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, possibly his best feature to date. Using different cinematic styles, it begins by quoting two other films: first we witness a shot from Gone with the Wind and immediately after scenes from The Birth of a Nation, leading to a propagandistic documentary for the superiority of the white race. Only after these references are we introduced to the main character of the film, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), an African-American who is about to apply for a position to the local Police Department. All this is presented in 70s style funkiness and we are warned that what we are going to watch is based on a true story (“Βased on some fo’ real, fo’ real sh*t”).
While our protagonist Ron starts working as a police officer he soon realises that the racist behaviour that surrounds him is too much to handle and demands to become an undercover agent. In his new position, he will become a member of the notorious Ku Klux Klan in order to investigate their suspicious activity. Even though the motto of The High Arts Review (our site, in case you’re wondering) is that a plot rarely makes a good movie, this is one of the exceptions to the rule, where the unfolding of the excellent-scripted plot provides the foundation on which the action is based. And this unfolding gradually reveals itself, layer upon layer, smoothly reaching the core.
Spike Lee’s cinematic techniques are a marvel. Here he returns to his trademark dolly shots, where both cameras and actors move at the same time while on a dolly, giving the illusion of floating in space. Then, there’s the impressive soundtrack featuring legendary artists of the era: Aretha Franklin, Τhe Temptations, Marvin Gaye one of Prince’s beautiful swan songs which can be heard during the end credits. Cinematic references aside, the director provides real footage from the rally that led to the University of Virginia incidents in 2017. It is a bold decision to include this, a decision that will probably shock some viewers and which could have, perhaps, been omitted (even though Spike Lee is not the kind of director who would normally hold back when he has to make point, and the way he does it every time proves he was right).
Despite the technical features, one of the strengths of the film lies within the most quiet shots that focus on the reactions of the characters, often zooming to their facial features and emphasizing the beauty of their characteristics, like in the scene with the Kwame Ture talk for the rights of the Afro-American people.
The performances are exemplary and they often rely on sarcasm and humour as if to counteract the high-brow seriousness of the controversial and historically important films that are depicted at the beginning (just to remind you, those are Gone with the Wind and The Birth of a Nation).
BlacKkKlansman is one of Spike Lee’s strongest films, a director who doesn’t hesitate to speak the truth no matter what it takes. It’s a feature that is emotionally mature, bold, funky and visually appealing at the same time.