DVD: BlacKkKlansman (2018)

November 5, 2018 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Standard

Label:  Universal

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  November 6, 2018

Genre:  Political Drama / Docu-Drama

Synopsis: Based on the true story of a black detective who infiltrated the KKK by phone and in person using a white colleague in the 1970s.

Special Features:  Producer-director-star discussion / Expanded Trailer.

 


 

Review:

Spike Lee’s latest feature is based on Black Klansman, Ron Stallworth’s recently published account of his time as an undercover detective for the Colorado Springs Police Department during the 1970s, with one heck of a premise: in 1972, Stallworth managed to infiltrate a nascent KKK group by pretending to be an interested member by phone, and sending a white colleague as his equivalent when in-person meetings with the group’s reps were mandated.

Stallworth’s job was to gather intelligence on the racist organization to prevent acts of hatred, ultimately stopping the burning of crosses and bombing attempts at gay bars, but the screenplay by Lee, David Rabinowitz , Charlie Wachtel (The Tinsel Town), and Kevin Willmott (Chi-Raq) is more hybrid; some of the craziest twists of fate are in fact true, but the most cinematic stand out as the most fictional, which isn’t a bad thing per se.

BlacKkKlansman isn’t a docu-drama but a sometimes loose dramatization of Stallworth’s entry as the department’s first black detective; the events that led to the first of several phone exchanges with Klan leader Walter Breachway (The Blacklist’s Ryan Eggold); and the 7 month period in which Stallworth’s white alter ego Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) became a trusted member of the group, ultimately earning Stallworth official KKK status courtesy of an executive nudge from David Duke (Topher Grace).

A developing relationship between Stallworth (John David Washington) and local student activist Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier) following a speech by the Black Panther’s Kwame Ture / Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins) feels like pure nonsense, as does an attempted bombing of a student demonstration + Dumas’ house, a lively dance at an after hours club, and a racist cop being eventually arrested in the finale, but it all makes for a clean, dramatic through-line that allows the writers to add tension, some dark black humour, and Lee to choreograph some stellar cross-cut montages.

The white Stallworth’s unmasking at a KKK ceremony with a visiting Duke allows for the klan’s ever-suspicious Felix Kendrickson (Vikings’ fiery-eyed Jasper Pääkkönen) to make threats and engage in an alternate bombing plot with his wife, but the real gut-wrencher is the ceremony that cements Flip’s Klan membership. Lee intercuts the assembling robed men in a dank room with a lecture given to students by Jerome Turner (Harry Belafonte), who recounts the grotesque murder of Jesse Washington in gory detail with unsubtle stills that chronicled the boy’s killing and medieval indignities to his corpse. The lengthy montage’s finale has the Klan members reacting enthusiastically to a screening of D.W. Griffith’s silent epic Birth of a Nation (1915), in which the KKK saves the town from nasty blacks.

At 140 mins. Lee’s drama is a bit long, and Washington’s attempt to enliven Stallworth never reaches a satisfying peak  – the characters remain rather limited in spite of the generally strong actors – but it’s the surreal events and true life twists which make the story gripping, especially Stallworth being hired by his department to bodyguard Duke after Flip’s ceremonial induction, and later asking his undercover partner to take a Polaroid of Stallworth arm in arm with Duke.

Lee doesn’t need to hector audiences on the ills of extreme conservatism and racists being rebranded as the alt right – the story allows for plenty of unsubtle, sly jabs at present day madness – but there are a few moments in which dialogue paraphrases Trumpian slogans.

If BlacKkKlansman feels like a warning cry, it’s because of the frankness in language, imagery, historical references, and Lee’s coda which revisits the Unite the Right ‘rally’ in Charlottesville by showing the most graphic and shrill material which culminated in a driver injuring several protests and killing a young woman. The final image of a desaturated and inverted American flag is an apt closing image, and while not one of Lee’s best films, it’s designed to smack audiences to not only remember the Charlottesville fracas as racism run amok, but get fence sitters to vote during the 2018 midterms.

Perhaps the weakest element is Terence Blanchard’s score which is sparse but suffers from the same cyclical theme reiteration that seems to be the norm in much of Lee and Blanchard’s post-Malcolm X (1992) collaborations. The shift from a militaristic marching rhythm to light jazz & R&B fusion with orchestral backing sets the film’s initial mood, but later iterations run contrary to the tension within later montages, especially the lead-up to the bomb blast. The score’s not as grating as Clockers (1995), but Lee either brings out the worst in Blanchard, or he prefers to keep score as simple and lean as possible, relying on source music to propel scenes and deepen subtext.

 

 

© 2018 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Composer Filmography
 
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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