REVIEW: While flawed, ‘BlacKkKlansman’ is an engaging take on a wild true story

Legendary filmmaker Spike Lee has returned to the directors chair, this time to helm a crime/cop drama that’s actually based on a true story.

Taking place in the 1970s, “BlacKkKlansman” follows Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a recent addition to a police department in Colorado. As a rookie in the department, Ron initially works in the records division. However, he eventually convinces the chief to get a chance in undercover detective work.

After a short time in the new division, Ron ends up taking a chance by phone to call a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. In doing so, Ron is able to keep track of the local Klan’s strategies and if they’re seeking to do anything violent. To make the investigation even more effective, Ron works with Flip (Adam Driver), a fellow detective who takes Ron’s place during in-person meetings with the Klan.

As someone who works in the news biz and writes movie reviews, I know that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. This film, inspired by the true story, is another piece that encompasses that idea.

Like his other work, Lee is able to take this almost unbelievable true story and mold it into an interesting, suspenseful and even at times funny movie.

Not only is “BlacKkKlansman” an entertaining crime picture that engages audiences with its interesting premise, though. It’s subject matter also gives an intense look into the very frightening, awful world of racists.

The film pulls no punches. After the initial setup with the police investigation work, the movie heavily explores the horrible aspects of racism, and does so in a way that feels all too real.

On the other hand, there were moments there the storytelling felt a bit too erratic, though. Plus, the pacing was somewhat off, leading to a rather anticlimactic third act.

The picture also featured a side plot revolving around a romance between Ron and a political activist named Patrice (Laura Harrier). It’s understandable that the relationship is supposed to represent what being a police officer means for an African American and how law enforcement officials are viewed.

In researching the film, I came to find out that Patrice was a character created for the film, and never existed in the real story. This aspect wasn’t too surprising. While the discussions about law enforcement between Ron and Patrice were interesting and added another angle to the movie’s message, their relationship seemed forced and even unnecessary to an extent.

Plus, I had hoped that the film would have showcased the effect the case is having on Ron. While his discussions with Patrice certainly give some insight into how he views law enforcement overall, displaying more of the stress that the case puts on him could have helped drive home how much weight was on his shoulders.

With that said, Washington gives a phenomenal performance here. He’s very convincing in the role here, with his delivery capturing the things going on in the character’s head and displaying it to the audience, from his conviction and belief in the idea of law enforcement to reactions related to the racism and discrimination he deals with in his life.

Giving an equally strong performance was Driver. What’s interesting about Driver’s character is that he is of Jewish heritage, and therefore is also in an extremely dangerous situation by being part of the undercover Klan investigation. Flip experiences the Klan’s despise for Jewish individuals firsthand and Driver’s performance is so on point in portraying the character’s coming to terms with racism and what kind of case he’s gotten himself into.

One performer who didn’t have as much screentime, but definitely had an impact, was Topher Grace playing professional scumbag and all around terrible person David Duke. While it must have been difficult to play the former national leader of the Klan, Grace does in fact give a very good performance in the film. Grace is able to portray the aspects of the gentleman in a suit and the disgusting person Duke is underneath quite well.

Lee, a true auteur, delivers another solid picture here, and gives the movie some unique flair. One of the many examples actually is at the end where Lee makes a well crafted, powerful transition from the film’s situation to a recent event. His latest cinematic endeavor, while not perfect, is still pretty good. 3.8 out of 5.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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