Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier
Director: Spike Lee
In the 1970’s in Colorado, Ron Stallworth (Washington) is a young black cop who is initally sent to the basement records room and faces the everyday racism of his colleagues. But when he makes it out of the basement and into the undercover crimes unit, he’s determined to prove himself. At first he is sent to investigate a black rights rally, and when it goes OK he decides to go out on a limb and infiltrate the KKK. When his plan works over the phone, he realises that he will have to get a white face to be him at meetings in order for the take down to work. He is given Flip Zimmerman (Driver), who is Jewish. Can a black and a jewish cop take down the KKK? It’s a plan that’s just crazy enough to work.
Spike Lee films always have a sense of humour and raw emotion. They’re entertaining, and then they hit you in the feels. The editing style of this film is dynamic and almost comic book, the hairstyles and outfits, the acting style of the KKK members all feels a little cartoonish. It’s the right note to hit for a film about a young cop who makes some mistakes and who will infiltrate the organisation because they’re clearly idiots. And yet, that makes us let our guard down, and Lee knows just when to hit you with real emotions. He’s a director who isn’t afraid to hit things head on and to approach things in his own style. And this film shows that he’s still in fine form as a commentator on civil rights who also is an excellent filmmaker. His films feel unlike anyone elses in tone and style, and after all this time, to me Lee still feels fresh.
So often, this film made me laugh or smile. There are so many idiots in this film, and you look forward to seeing them get taken down a peg. Stallworth himself is also often very funny because he’s got more enthusiasm than understanding and bites off more than he can chew.
All of that said though, this film isn’t a comedy. For all of the slick edits and cool hairstyles, it’s a film about something truly awful. It’s not a perfect film, it has moments that feel a bit too much, a bit cheesey, someone get their comeuppance when we suspect in real life, they probably never did (I’m thinking of racist cops within the force). It uses an interesting story and draws us in with style and humour, but it doesn’t shy away from the truth about how racism is truly terrifying and all too real. It’s easy to talk about how it was in the past and how far we’ve come, to pat each other on the back for all the change that has happened, but the reality is that people are still fighting today. And this film takes us there too. It’s pretty upsetting and raw. It’s real.
So on the one hand, it’s a great story, it’s funny, it feels different, but on the other, it’s real and raw. It actually left me in tears after some final shots that I won’t spoil for you. It’s flawed, but well worth seeing.
See It If: sign up for the story and the humour from some really great performances, stay for the way it hits you in the feels in that way that is truly Spike Lee’s style. I’m glad I saw this film.