Spike Lee’s latest film tells a crazy true story from 1979 that has major relevance for the world of 2018… and he does not shy away from making his point.
This is one of those movies that is really powerful and sticks with you for awhile and it is very challenging to formulate your thoughts on it without a proper time of reflection. Good for Spike Lee for creating something that makes people think.
Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) was the first African-American police officer on the all-white Colorado Springs Police Department and he was going to face some challenges. However, the color of his skin quickly opened some doors for him as they needed him to go undercover at a speech by former Black Panther Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins). After the speech, the local branch of the Klu Klux Klan felt the need to recruit new members and put an ad in the paper. Ron saw the ad and called the number. He was able to set up a meeting with the KKK members.
Problem is… Ron is black and the KKK was not blind. With support of his Chief (Robert John Burke), Ron recruited fellow police officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to go undercover and play a white Ron Stallworth and meet with the KKK.
So while Flip was meeting with the KKK, Ron was talking with them on the phone. In fact, Ron is able to make contact on the phone with the KKK’s Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace). Duke enjoyed the conversations he had with Ron, not knowing that he had been talking to a black man.
Some parts of the movie worked better than others. My least favorite parts were the romantic relationship the film tried to build between Ron and Patrice (Laura Harrier), the college’s Black Power president. It felt like something added in that just did not work for me.
However, everything with Ron and Flip and the KKK was outstanding. I loved everything with Ron and his fellow police officers in the CSPD. I thought both John David Washington and Adam Driver were exceptional. Driver was playing a man who was Jewish, but was not very Jewish so he was being faced with the anti semantic hatred for the first time. This was opening his eyes along the way. There was great chemistry between them and they certainly are a key component to the film working as well as it did.
I also liked how Spike Lee did not completely demonize the KKK side of the film either. Sure there were a couple of the members were played as evil, but there were many of them who just were guys who wanted to drink beer and who had a disgusting point of view.
Though the topic is extremely serious, the film itself has a lot of great moments of humor. Some of the phone conversations with Duke and Ron were just hilarious and many of the situations were so unbelievable that you have to laugh. The timing of the humor was perfectly executed.
Lee does not miss a chance to be political in here. He took a couple of subtler shots at the Trump Administration in the film, using some of the wording of Trump’s own rhetoric for dialogue for the KKK. However, the end of the film left no doubt about the intention of the message of the film.
The ending of this film is a very dramatic and gutsy moment about which I am unsure how I feel. The scenes were absolutely powerful and emotionally compelling for sure, and I understand why he included them. I just worry that it might send people who have a certain idealism and who may have been swayed by the film running away from it. It absolutely stunned the theater I was watching it in as I could hear several people sobbing while these scenes were being shown.
Another message that Lee seems to be sending is that, while there are racist police officers in the world, there are also good solid men and women who take the badge seriously. While there are too many who rush to judgment, there is still hope that the cops can be a force of good.
Topher Grace was fantastic as David Duke, bringing a side to the KKK leader that you might not expect.
There are a ton of great performances and some really biting social commentary wrapped up into a film that has great humor and a thrilling story. This is one of Spike Lee’s best films in years and maybe his best wide release film ever.