This film was one of my three most anticipated films for the second half of the year, along with ‘Halloween’ and ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’. Consequently, when it finally came to a UK cinema near me; I jumped at the opportunity to finally watch it. The latest Spike Lee offering has received a huge wash of praise, from critics and fans jointly, since it’s initial premiere on the 14th of May at Cannes. Such an abundance of joyous praise raised my expectations incredibly; it even gave me reason to believe that my first Spike Lee film could be right up there amongst my top film’s of the year.
What is it about?
When Ron Stallworth (John David Washington,) becomes the first African-American police officer in the Colorado police department; he has some radical ideas of how he could be of use as an undercover police officer. Typically, his first thought as a right-thinking, black, police officer is to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. With a number he picks out from an article in the paper; he soon gets in touch with the leader of a local chapter, who likes the sound of his ideas and wants to invite him to a meet. However, as he is black and trying to join a white supremacist group, meeting in person is clearly a tricky situation. He uses the help of Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), a Jewish police officer, to act as his “white surrogate” to infiltrate the organisation at a deeper level. However, when principles are tested directly on both sides, will they manage to maintain the façade?
What did I think?
This film exceeded my expectations in almost every regard, which was pretty incredible considering my optimism going into it. Humour was used so perfectly in it’s favour; that, despite a few shortcomings in the film overall, that was not where my attention was focused. Just the idea of a black cop trying to infiltrate the world-renowned, white supremacy group was ridiculously hilarious; but, the way they played with this idea drew laughter from me, and the audience, time after time. However, at no point did this confuse or even suggest to the audience that the subject matter itself was laughable. At it’s core, the dark and tumultuous story evoked a real sense of peril and although it is clearly set in a period of the past, 1979, the themes were very contemporary. These themes are in turn directly linked to the recent horrors of Charlottesville, with graphic footage at the very end. Moreover, I thought the acting was superb, specifically from: Adam Driver (who portrays the image of someone in conflict between: what he believes in and what he has to be, perfectly;) as well as, John David Washington (who infuses comedy, drama and style, succinctly in his role as the “black cop in the KKK”.) However, I also liked Laura Harrier as Patrice and found that, upon reflection many of my favourite scenes involved her in some way. One of the initial scenes in the film, with the preaching at a black college group meet-up, was startling and exciting; owing a huge debt to the energy brought by both the Preacher and Patrice herself. Another thing that made this scene stand out for me is, the original camera work. I like the way it showed flashes of individual people’s faces, as well as panning out to show the whole room’s reactions to certain comments. These quick changes have really stuck in my mind and, in my opinion, worked.
However, I did feel the film was slightly overlong. At points towards the end, the constant switch between phone and face to face communication became a little tedious and monotonous. Although the ironic, racist, small talk clearly established the divide between Flip and Ron, and the Ku Klux Klan; by the end it just felt too much (like it could have done with some trimming.) Finally, although the actual end was very satisfying, the events that lead up to it in the third act were often a little underwhelming. A lot of the time I did feel a genuine threat was aroused; however, the events surrounding Flip’s initiation were generally mediocre and repetitive.
My Rating: 8/10
I really enjoyed this film and felt I gained more of an insight into the horrid heart of the KKK than ever before. I thought: the performances were good; the story was excellent (although I hear they stretched the credibility of the “Fo Real, Fo Real S***” it is based on;) the relationships were well developed and believable and also the blend of humour and dark themes complemented each other extraordinarily. Although, it lost it’s way a little in the middle and end the rest of the film more than made up for these blips.