Based on the fascinating true story of Ron Stallworth, a Colorado police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan over the phone in the 1970s, BlacKkKlansman is easily director and co-writer Spike Lee’s best film in over 10 years.
Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first African American officer in his police department. After toiling in the evidence locker, he is recruited by the undercover unit. He makes phone calls to the local chapter of the Klan, eventually becoming a member. Adam Driver plays the Jewish officer who handles all face-to-face meetings.
Lee's work, for better and for worse, resembles that of Oliver Stone (Platoon, Born on the 4th of July) in many ways. Lee's best movies have a raw emotional power that’s refreshing, but he also has a tendency to overplay his hand and sledgehammer audiences with his already-obvious message. At 135 minutes, BlacKkKlansman does lay it on a bit thick at times, and the prologue with Alec Baldwin is superfluous.
However, these complaints are minor. Washington (Denzel’s son) and Driver acquit themselves well as the leads, and Topher Grace (as David Duke) does a good job of capturing simultaneously Duke’s superficial charm and seething hatred underneath. The script also mines dark humor from the bureaucracies of both the police department and the Ku Klux Klan.
Lastly, one of Lee’s strengths throughout his career has been acknowledging the differences of viewpoints as well as the class struggles within the African American community. Lee portrays this in BlacKkKlansman as well, as Washington’s undercover officer forms a relationship with a local activist (Laura Harrier) who does not know he is a cop and believes that all police officers are the enemy.
Overall, BlacKkKlansman is a film that is both thought-provoking and entertaining. It’s a movie with a message that doesn’t forget that a movie must first and foremost be entertaining in order to successfully deliver any message.