Put on your bell bottoms, 3.5 jive turkeys. It’s time for a review of Spike Lee’s latest joint.
It’s the 1970s and a young Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) has become the first black police officer on the Colorado Springs force. Alas, his dreams of defeating villains with kung-fu moves gleamed from his favorite flicks come to a grinding halt when he’s assigned to the epically boring records room.
One day, whilst fending off boredom by reading a newspaper, he spots a recruitment ad for the Ku Klux Klan. On a lark, he calls it, requests information on how to join and down the rabbit hole he goes.
Naturally, Ron can’t show up to a KKK meeting and expect to get out alive, so he teams up with fellow officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), a man whose Jewish heritage is also not looked at fondly by the Klan.
Together, Ron and Flip become two halves of one whole klansman. Flip infiltrates the Colorado Springs chapter of the racist hate group in person, pretending to be a fellow hater of all non-white, non-Christians. Meanwhile, Ron handles all phone communications with the klan on behalf of the made-up klansman, and even strikes up a long, ongoing telephone friendship with the head klansman, David Duke (Topher Grace), allowing Ron to obtain all sorts of info. He also gets Flips back, tracking the baddies and helping out where he can from behind the scenes.
I won’t give too much away but suffice to say, it’s educational, thrilling, full of action, suspense and yes, even as you might imagine based on the premise, comedy. A scene where a police sergeant matter of factly explains to Ron that he will likely be figured out if he shows up to a klan meeting as himself is one of the funnier parts of the film.
In my opinion, this is the greatest of all of Spike Lee’s films or “joints” as he calls them. It’s a shame it was released in August as it does have Oscar potential, though who knows, perhaps the Academy will have a long memory this year.
Shout out to Washington, who nails it in this (as far as I know) his first major big screen role. I could be wrong on that but at any rate this is a big breakthrough performance for him. Adam Driver continues to prove that he does his best acting when he isn’t playing Kylo Ren and Topher Grace banks on his patented ability to play smarmy weasels.
One criticism. Nick Turturro is a great actor and has long been a regular in Spike Lee joints. I’m not faulting him or his abilities it’s just that he usually plays characters of either Italian or Hispanic descent, usually with a New York accent and, well, here he plays one of the klansmen.
In this day and age of social media outrage, I have to be clear. It’s not that under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t want Nick to attend your dinner party or be part of your organization, it’s just that, in this case, you have a movie that’s exposing the inner workings of a group of people who hate anyone who isn’t a WASP (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) and in that respect, it seems like a character played by Nick would be more likely to be lynched by the klan than to be embraced by them.
I don’t know. Again, not faulting NT as he has a number of great performances, but I think in this film, he might have been better as a cop or in a non-klan role.
Come on. Don’t send me angry letters. “You don’t look like you belong in the KKK” is a compliment.
A final thought – one (of many) positive messages I took from this film is that when people from different backgrounds come together, they can achieve great things. Ron came up with the idea to infiltrate the KKK, but to pull it off, he needed Flip, as well as other police officers who assisted with equipment, surveillance, etc.
In other words, I hope one day we can reach a point where it isn’t about color or race or religion but rather, just good people doing good and keeping bad people at bay.