Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier
Director: Spike Lee
Running Time: 135 mins
BlacKkKlansman is an American film about the story of Ron Stallworth, a black police officer who infiltrated the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan with the help of his white colleague, working to disrupt the mechanisms of the highest levels of the radical organisation.
On the one hand, BlacKkKlansman is a film that’s delivered with passion and energy, with good humour and drama throughout to make both an entertaining and engrossing watch, furthered by strong performances across the board and a fantastic presentation of the time period of the 1970s. On the other hand, it’s a movie that doesn’t do enough to really get under your skin when trying to deliver its main point, and as such feels a little underwhelming come the end of its rather long runtime.
Let’s start off on the bright side, though, with Spike Lee’s direction. Taking on a topic with which the director is very well-versed, there’s no denying that BlacKkKlansman is a passionate piece, and one with a clearly defined political message at its core, something that shines through very well at its best moments, as well as its sharply pointed final sequence, bringing the theme of racial injustice out of its 70s setting and right into the present day and the real world.
Another plus comes in the form of the film’s humour, which is what makes its premise just as entertaining to watch throughout as the central message its strong. The movie isn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it isn’t meant to be, however it does bring a great energy to the movie that could have been lost if it were a more serious affair, and in tandem with its deliberately goofy presentation of the 1970s, the film proves a thoroughly fun watch throughout.
Meanwhile, the lead performances are also just as good. John David Washington has an effortless likability in the lead role – even if he’s not quite as present as I would have liked to see, while Adam Driver is fantastically funny in the supporting role, bringing a lot of humour and energy to proceedings as well, all the while helping you to really grow to adore the lead characters as they become more and more engrossed in a dangerous plot to infiltrate the KKK.
With all that said, BlacKkKlansman isn’t quite a flawless film. Above all, as pointed and clear as its central political message is, I really didn’t feel all that impacted by the movie at any moment. In comparison to more recent (and more serious) films dealing with racism, such as Selma and 12 Years A Slave, BlacKkKlansman just didn’t get under my skin in portraying just how unjust and frustrating racial discrimination and oppression can be.
That’s partly down to the fact that the film’s screenplay doesn’t allow the darkest elements of its central message to shine through at points, however the biggest problem in my view is how it portrays the bad guys of the movie: the KKK.
Now, while it’s perfectly fine to poke fun at an organisation with such radical and nasty views, I felt that Spike Lee goes a little too far with this, turning the members of the Klan into a group of goofy idiots, completely taking away from the deeply disturbing and threatening nature of the reality. A more menacing KKK would have taken away from the film’s fun atmosphere, but the way it is here means that I didn’t feel threatened or frustrated by the on screen portrayal of the Klan, left only to think of the real history to feel the same sense.
Overall, BlacKkKlansman is a film with a lot of energy and passion to it, complete with strong performances and direction that makes it both an entertaining and engrossing affair, even though it doesn’t quite push the boundaries to really grab you with fully powerful drama, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.3.