Cinematic Releases - Blackkklansman (2018) - Reviewed

What is art if not a provocation?  Cinema, written word, television...anything that is created is a reflection not only of the artist but of the world in which it was conceived.  Renowned auteur Spike Lee's Blackkklansmen is a litany of outrage, with the director's fury becoming a palpable entity that haunts every frame.  Featuring two of the best performances of the year, terrifying visuals, and an unapologetic condemnation of the current President of the United States, this is a landmark picture that demands to be seen, digested, and above all remembered.  

Ron Stallworth is the first African-American police officer in Colorado Springs, initially assigned to various undercover assignments.  After seeing an ad in the local paper for the Ku Klux Klan, Ron initiates contact, posing as a racist white man, setting off a series of events that not only expose the organization for what it is, but also reveal the festering institutional hatred upon which America was built.  This is a difficult film.  It's laugh out loud funny in one breath, then deadly serious in the next.  It asks difficult questions about race, privilege, unity, and rebellion.  These tonal shifts are echoed in the frenetic narrative, and while this might not work for everyone, it is a direct representation of Lee's outright disgust with the current administration.  

It was difficult to watch as someone who has benefitted from privilege all of my life.  Seeing events from the past, which our history books obsequiously color, mirrored with present atrocities was a staunch reminder that the fight is not over, and more so, there is a place for harmony and cooperation.  John David Washington and Adam Driver's central relationship is the potent eye of the storm.  Washington does an unbelievable job, with his character embodying conflicting ideals, a commitment to justice, and an unmistakable sense of true patriotism.  Driver begins as a foil, a reminder of the grim realities of police work, however, as their mutual bond grows, so does Driver's character's understanding of his own personal identity.  The scene in which this unfolds will undoubtedly have both of these talented performers on many ballots come award season.  

Outside of the subject matter, this is one of Lee's most technically proficient efforts.  Music, voiceovers, and slick editing are combined to create a bifurcated machine that toils towards its thought-provoking conclusion.  Chayse Irvin's cinematography bathes everything in deep browns and blues, marrying natural scenes of the Colorado countryside with dingy garages and smoke filled chambers of disenfranchised conspiracy.  There are a handful of shots that stay within the mind's eye long after the credits begin to roll, including an unspeakable target range and one of the most beautiful (and horrifying) uses of reflection in modern cinema.  

The end result is a jarring foray into the past and present.  This film will offend, endear, and ultimately force difficult conversations about perception and progress and this with unbridled intent.  Has America progressed beyond its nefarious origins?  D. W. Griffith's Birth of Nation plays a prominent part in the third act, featured during yet another dichotomy, and this begins to erase the veneer of unity to expose the duality of the soul of America.  Lee's thunderous finger pointing is not only at those responsible for current affairs, it is also aimed directly at the bystander who goes along to get along.  The absolute genius of his work is that it doesn't accuse so much as pleas with the viewer to take a stand.  In the end, a nation without principles is not a nation, it is a place of warring tribes and this is perhaps the most important lesson of the film.  

In theaters tomorrow, Blackkklansman is a two plus hour long endurance test.  Shocking, audacious, and unexpectedly funny, this is the most American film of the decade and an undeniably important work.  It challenges you, it accuses you, and begs you to care, to resist, and to stand up against the very real face of ignorance and intolerance.  Once in a while a film comes along that truly emulates the pulse of America.  Lee's latest goes further, removing the cancerous heart of the Greatest Nation and putting its bloody mass on the scales of justice. 

Rest in Power.  

--Kyle Jonathan