Simon Dillon reviews the Spike Lee film based on the incredible story of Ron Stallworth, an African-American Colorado police officer who managed to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan.


I'll confess upfront that I've never been a huge fan of Spike Lee, give or take the extraordinary Do the Right Thing from 1989. That said, he is a very talented and incisive filmmaker, even though some of his work comes off as preachy. Mercifully that isn't the case - for the most part - in BlacKkKlansman, Lee's finest film in years.

After a curious prologue with Alec Baldwin as a white supremacist creating a Ku Klux Klan promotional reel (utilising clips of the notoriously racist classic film Birth of a Nation and the much better loved, though still arguably racist Gone with the Wind), a caption informs us that the following film is based on some "fo' real, fo' real sh*t". This incredible story of Ron Stallworth, an African-American Colorado police officer who managed to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan, proves the maxim that truth is stranger than fiction. Yes, some events are fictionalised, but oddly enough it is often the more unbelievable parts of the tale that are actually true.

Stallworth (John David Washington) is aided and abetted by fellow undercover officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). Stallworth speaks to the Klan over the phone, whilst Zimmerman pretends to be him during face to face meetings. What follows is tense, farcical and often hilarious, particularly as Zimmerman is Jewish, making him as unpalatable to the Klan as the real Stallworth. Between them, Stallworth and Zimmerman climb the ranks in the Klan, eventually becoming head of a local branch and interacting with David Duke (Topher Grace), then national head of the Klan.

Both Washington and Driver deliver superb performances, and Lee's direction is smart and stylish, with great attention to 1970s period detail. However, as I mentioned earlier, it is the fact that the film is so entertaining that really gives it political punch. Allusions are made throughout to present day racism in America, particularly in relation to Trump's presidency. It is only when Trump's inept response to the 2017 Charlottesville riots is included in an epilogue that Lee overreaches slightly, tipping the film into (justified) scathing anger at a present day issue which, for me at least, was a little too on the nose and belongs in a different film. That said, perhaps I'll feel differently on a second viewing, as it was still powerful and arguably worthwhile.

In closing, it is worth giving warnings for very strong swearing and racist language, but the context calls for it. BlacKkKlansman comes highly recommended. CR

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