director: Spike Lee
writers: Spike Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott
starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier and Topher Grace
genre: Biopic | Comedy | Crime
released: 9 August 2018 (Australia), 10 August 2018 (USA), 23 August 2018 (Germany), 27 September 2018 (Greece)
Like it or not, things have been getting more political as of late from TV news to social media activity, all the way to movie making. Despite of this, some of us have been able to tolerate it within the confines of a story, even though on occasion it is sometimes a little too much at times. In this film here, the addition of certain elements works to a point, especially if you agree with that side of the political aisle and if you don't, you still might enjoy what is a great comedy based on a real story and that should have been made public a long time ago.
In the early 1970's in the city of Colorado Springs, an African American detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) will infiltrate the local chapter of the KKK and manage with his fellow officers to climb up the ranks and be eventually offered a leadership position within the KKK.
Naturally, going into this film and if you've seen a Spike Lee film or two, you would have known that politics are a big part of his life and his films always played around with the idea of adding modern day elements to his stories or bringing up currents affairs. Think of Edward Norton's speech in '25th Hour', or the fact that its not set in a timeless New York City, but in a New York that just came out of 9/11, or the ending of 'Malcolm X' where Nelson Mandela gives us a speech. These are examples of adding a small part of that time it was filmed into his works and some of these things did work and didn't overshadow the main character or the story that was taking place, here that is not the case, at least not entirely.
The film on its own and without the minor, but noticeable political additions does work marvelously. And I'm not talking necessarily about the innuendos or the addition of characters or viewpoints in Ron Stallworth's story. I'm referring to the ending of the film where footage of today was taken in order to hammer a point. Won't go further into it, as then we would get into the realm of clear cut politics and not movie making, but this has become too much of an occurrence lately that its almost unavoidable not to mention. Were movies are no longer entertainment with plots and character studies, rather political pieces to spread the message of a specific group. Which is weird as the purpose of that is kind of already fulfilled through some of the characters in the film. So hammering down the message through specifically the first scenes of the film and ending muddles the water and is a bit of overkill.
The film itself, as mentioned is actually quite hilarious, engaging and a story that was ripe for a movie adaptation. The real life story of Ron Stallworth is something you can't believe could have happened, but is a testament to his hard work and determination of him and his fellow officers to stamp down the illegal and violent elements of the KKK. Spike Lee's direction of the story is also unexpectedly good as he treats it for the majority of the film as a comedy. Having seen a few of his films its not what I expected, as he’s not that type of director we have come to be used of. However, same with 'Inside Man' it shows Spike Lee does have a wider range of filmmaking skill that we should give him credit for.
Regarding that opening and ending that has been referenced twice already, but without exact details has to do with a weird opening of stock and film footage inter-cut with Alec Baldwin playing a weird racist propagandist. This doesn't really come up later in the film and actually set the wrong tone for the rest of it as a matter of fact, as it maybe would have worked better in the middle of the film as a satire of how stupid the KKK are, but as the opening of the film it didn't fit with the story and tone of Ron Stallworth entry to the police force and climbing up the ranks. Regarding, the ending, I wish it had ended instead where Ron and his girlfriend see that their battle with the KKK will continue as with their different viewpoints on how to fight the battle for equality in the greater United States. It would have given the message that the fight has to go on and that you may have won the battle, but not the war. Additionally, the fact this couple may have had different outlooks on how to solve the problem, but still wanted to talk to each other in order to find a way to solve it.
Granted, they are other moments in the film that have lines that are iffy to say the least and that show that they are making certain characters say things to push a narrative that Spike Lee has or that even the real life characters may have had also, but this is acceptable within the plot and especially if it falls in line with how the real life characters viewed things. Another unfortunate element is that the main character of Ron Stallworth is too many times in the middle of too many extremes, but never states to the people around him such as his girlfriend or partner Flip how the more they go towards the extremes with polarization of individuals, the more violence will be had and the more wrong will be done. But, here again you can slightly let that slide, as personally I'm not aware of the politics of Ron Stallworth himself and also his character in the film is portrayed as a honest and open minded man that cares for his romantic partner despite her still calling him a pig and that nothing can be accomplished through the police system, even though he manages to do so in front of her eyes magnificently and with great courage.
Nevertheless, this is a minor critique compared to the rest of the film that is simply a joy to watch. Ron's journey within the police department is to take the opportunities that are presented to him and roll with them. Which is how he gets caught up in intelligence and eventually contacting and infiltrating the KKK. From the second he picks up the phone and fakes his way in the film is pure comedy gold. From the lines, to the acting of all the great actors in the film, you just keep getting surprised with the situations Ron and his fellow officers get into to catch the KKK in something nasty. Which they do and some of these actually show that things could have gone a lot worse for him and the other officer Flip played by Adam Driver. These moments of sudden change from the comedic and satirical to the potential horrific are balanced perfectly by Spike Lee, as in the case of such scenes such as where Flip is being interrogated by the KKK or Ron arriving at a KKK initiation meeting and much more. Some of these events did also happen in real life and some that you can read online were a bit exaggerated and even changed, but not to the point where it negates the story or the characters actions and identities.
Additionally and final point, Spike Lee nailed the casting of this film. Its mostly newcomers that are getting their chance to shine such as in John David Washington as Ron Stallworth who also happens to be Denzel's son, but also Laura Harrier who seems to have a bright future ahead of her after first seeing her first in 'Spider-Man: Homecoming'. Within the film their is also a couple of other well known actors such as Topher Grace who doesn't overact or phone it, and gives a very low key performance that for such a character worked perfectly. Lastly, there is Adam Driver who might be one of the best actors in cinema today and with great ability to go in and out of blockbusters without seeing a iota of change in his attitude to acting. Overall, A+ for casting to the film.
This is a phenomenal comedy and a great story from history that most wouldn’t believe is true, but is. And even while they are certain character issues that could have been handled a little bit better and you might find the inclusion of modern day politics into the mix unnecessary, this is still a great film to enjoy and laugh with.