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An African-American police officer from Colorado teams up with a white counterpart in an audacious double-act to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. Spike Lee crime drama based on a true story.
It’s the early 1970s, and Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, Love Beats Rhymes) is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth sets out to infiltrate and expose the local Ku Klux Klan. He soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), into the undercover investigation of a lifetime as the pair join forces to impersonate a new KKK member. Topher Grace co-stars as KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, on a mission to present a friendly, corporate face to the violent, racist organisation.
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- Spike Lee('Malcolm X', 'Jungle Fever', 'Do the Right Thing')
Crime, Drama, True Story & Biography
Rating: RP13 Violence, offensive language, sexual references & content that may disturb
In the time since Donald Trump was elected US President, a number of theories have emerged within the greater public consciousness to justify this turn of events: it was the Russians; it was Hillary’s emails; it was the weird US electoral system that no one really understands. Underlying each of these explanations, of course, is the myth: that no one could have seen this horrible situation coming. Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is an indictment of this myth.
His film is the true story of the first black cop to join the Colorado Springs police force in the early 1970s, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), who, with his colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) goes undercover to infiltrate the KKK. Quickly revealing both the open racism of the local community and the complete apathy and complicity of their superiors, the investigation also indicates that white supremacy is not waning - and, instead, steadily working its way into the mainstream.
Despite its period setting, BlacKkKlansman is spectacularly direct in connecting the dots between Stallworth’s story and the current American political situation. KKK Grand Wizard David Duke (played with chilling geniality by Topher Grace) even expresses a desire to Make America Great Again.
Lee’s lack of subtlety regarding these connections may be entertaining - many members of our predominantly white audience roared with laughter at these moments - but it is also brimming with impatience: the urgency to spell out what is really going on for those still under the illusion that Trump is an aberration and not a symptom of long brewing, purposefully neglected racial animus.
BlacKkKlansman may be the most accessible, and perhaps most entertaining, work of Lee’s latter day career but it is also his most important. An epilogue, in the form of news footage from the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville where counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed (an event which BlacKkKlansman’s release coincides with and commemorates), is a perfect, sobering conclusion to a truly scathing critique of a culture and a history that created the world we see today.
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Los Angeles Times
Stuff.co.nz (Graeme Tuckett)
Not what I expected from Spike Lee
I wasn't sure what to expect after seeing the trailer and knowing Spike Lee's reportoire - I was surprised, it was funny but still the serious element. You could have heard a pin drop with the ending. Recommended.
Best film I have seen for a while
I don't remember being so tense throughout the entirety of a movie before - was super confronting and the ending was incredibly powerful. Very important film and worth any unease you might feel watching it.
Engaging and Thought Provoking
Had no expectations but was entertained and challenged by the movie. Some classic Black humour great moods of the times and characters, but terrifying to realise that thinking is still radiating. Good night out
Captivating as always.
Spike Lee presents to the audience an enthralling story of politics, taboo, and race. I sat inside the cinema, absorbed in the film, feeling the past reflected in the present. Lee ends this unbelievable film, with clips of modern politics. As Tame Impala said, "It feels like we're going backwards".
Funny. But not.
Not a great fan of Spike Lee but I do like a black comedy (no pun intended. Well, maybe, a little;). A good film, a very timely reminder of what black people in America faced and still face. Just when we thought we had left all that racist crap behind in the last century up pops up the detestable KKK supporting and supported by the POTUS. Good film. Recommended. Great hair too!
Best Movie of 2018 so far!
I expected to love this movie but I wasn't prepared for just how timely it was. The links to what's happening in America right now were incredibly powerful and hit the right note at every step. Not only is this movie fun and exciting it's also essential viewing for 2018 and I would encourage everyone to see it!
Distinctly Spike Lee take on a Biopic
A biopic with a difference, Spike Lee's directorial style is unmistakable, from cinematography, to editing to the soundtrack. A clear voice and topical message is blatant and self-aware in the BlacKkKlansman. Audiences may be surprised, as I was, at how frequent I laughed - a true testament to Lee's experienced hand and a sterling cast of amazing actors. Both haunting, damming and hopeful, it is well worth the watch ... though be prepared to settle in, as at over 2 hrs in duration, it felt just a tad long for me.
ALL POWER TO ALL THE PEOPLE
At times this film doesn’t exactly know what it is. But when it finds it’s voice especially towards the third act. It’s a powerful account of the America of old, mirroring the American experience of today.
Making Spike Lee Great Again
I count Spike Lee’s ‘Malcolm X’, ‘Do The Right Thing ‘and ‘25th Hour’ amongst my favourite films. As well as powerful hits and the odd miss, the director’s also capable of delivering solid genre fare, such as ‘Inside Man’ and the pretty good, but completely unnecessary, ‘Oldboy’ remake.
His new movie sits somewhere between classic and accessible, a biting satirical swipe at racism in America. “Based”, as the opening title states, “on some fo-real shit”, this is the early 1970s-set story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first African-American in Colorado Springs Police, who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan, first over the phone, then in person, in the guise of a Jewish police officer Flip Zimmerman, (Adam Driver), because, as Ron says: “With the right white man we can do anything.”
With that kind of crazy-but-true story most filmmakers would have gone one of two ways: gritty, brutal real-life drama, or bold, brash outright slapstick farce. Instead Lee takes the bold and difficult step of walking satire’s thin line between social commentary, realism and comedy to create a Trumpian satire about today that holds a mirror up to modern race relations, and doesn’t give two hoots about subtlety.
By the time a bigoted Klan member utters a damn near quote of Trump’s baseball cap “Make America Great Again”, you’ll either be so swept up in the raging satire or so taken aback by the lack of subtlety, you will likely have made your mind up what kind of film this is.
A word of caution: don’t.
Go with it and Lee delivers a searing, heartfelt, important , uncomfortable and often laugh-out-loud funny indictment of racism, bigotry and prejudice in America.
Lee sets up his intentions right from the off. Opening with a scene from ‘Gone With the Wind’, in which the camera floats above Scarlett O’Hara as she wanders through a train station covered with the bodies of Confederate troops, and a direct to camera tirade by Alec Baldwin, playing a KKK hatemonger, punctuating his hate-speech with wild coughs and vocal exercises to clear his throat.
It’s shocking, hateful, funny and in-your-face – a direct assault on the audience and on the portrayal of America’s race history in Hollywood. It comes as no surprise when the D.W. Griffith’s 1915 epic hit silent movie ‘Birth of a Nation’ (originally titled ‘The Clansman’) is screened at a KKK gathering, for the white supremacists to cheer as black folk are lynched, humiliated and abused. Nor when Blaxploitation movies, from ‘Shaft’ and ‘Foxy Brown’ to ‘Superfly’ are directly referenced as part of an ongoing portrayal of caricatures envisioned by white filmmakers.
From the KKK to the Black Panthers to the Police themselves, Lee focuses on how self-interested groups close ranks and meet intolerance with intolerance, hate with hate, violence with violence.
As Ron, John David Washington hits the right notes of bemusement, anger, rage, confusion, humour and stunned disbelief. He’s a great protagonist and carries the crazy plot with assuredness.
As his white surrogate, and fellow police officer Flip, Adam Driver delivers an at times surprisingly subtle performance, as a lapsed Jew forced by hate and anti-Semitism to confront his own roots. It’s a great device, forcing audiences to see how, being faced with constant bigotry denies individuality and forces the recipient of hatred to see themselves as a “label” – be it “black”, “gay”, “Jew”, “Muslim” or “woman” – labelling and hatred begets more labelling and more hate.
It’s a vicious cycle society needs to break and that artists have been holding a mirror up to since the ancient plays of Greece.
As Ron’s boss and Police Chief, Robert John Burke is great, walking the line between supporting his new recruit and being a company man, towing the line and playing politics. Laura Harrier makes a strong impression as President of the University’s Black Power group, and as Grand KKK Wizard, David Duke, Topher Grace is at moments so reminiscent of Rhys Derby as inept manager Murray Hewitt in ‘Flight of the Choncords’, it’s hard to take his poisonous racist rhetoric seriously. Which may well be the point, right up until the moment it isn’t and laughing at the rednecks suddenly feels out of place, as hateful words turn to savage deeds.
It may be set in the 1970s but Lee’s firmly focused on now, and at how little has changed. The film wraps up with footage from the 2007 Charlottesville White Power riots, and the horrifying image of a fascist’s car ploughing into protestors, cut with President Trump announcing there was “violence on both sides” and some “very fine people” present, and former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke quoting Trump’s “it’s time to take our country back”.
Intellectually engaging, historically charged, beautifully made and righteously outraged, ‘BlackKKlansman’ is a fantastic film about racism, hatred, intolerance, the media depiction of “others” and civil rights from the 1970s to the Trump era.
Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? It’s both. A satire. Maybe not the one you want, but it’s the one we need. Powerful. Provocative. Funny and frightening. Lee’s latest had my belly aching with giggles, my guts churning with rage, and my mind doing flip-flops.
America First indeed.