Yes, it’s a Spike Lee Joint!
And it’s based on the book of the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first African American detective to serve on the Colorado Springs police department back in the `70s who infiltrated and exposed the Ku Klux Klan largely by phone. Luckily, this was way before cell phones and the Internet, or the entire operation would have fallen apart given how haphazardly it seems to have been done, at least onscreen.
But still, the mechanics of the plot are one of the few things that bring down what is easily Spike Lee’s best movie in years; that, and its early pacing issues, being at least 15 minutes too long, and much of its dialog being way too on-the-nose. But contrary to popular belief, the real Ron Stallworth never used a “white” voice on the phone. Apparently he had to use his real voice or they would have caught him if he slipped “out of character.” Of course, this makes things increasingly difficult since – being black — he can’t actually meet with the guy on the other end of the phone in person. Since this becomes a huge issue in the investigation, one wonders why they didn’t just switch to his white partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) after the initial contact just to makes things easier; surely David Duke (Topher Grace) wouldn’t have noticed a complete stranger’s voice changing slightly after a single short phone call. He certainly has no qualms with it when Zimmerman shows up in the (white) flesh, sounding differently from the guy on the phone, and with only second-hand knowledge of their phone conversations. Such questions are never really addressed, and believability is stretched when Stallworth eventually meets Duke personally.
But no matter how troubled the wind-up might be, its punch is undeniable by its end, blending modern footage into its narrative to bring its point home in no uncertain terms. No, BlacKkKlansman is not subtle; but sadly, a third of the population may need to be hit over the head to connect the dots of the racism on display in the film with the racism in the news today. Makes sense considering its true-story roots and relevance today.
Distributor: Focus Features
Runtime: 2 hrs. 15 min.
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, including racial epithets, and for disturbing/violent material and some sexual references
Directed by: Spike Lee
Writing Credits: Charlie Wachtel (written by) & David Rabinowitz (written by) and Kevin Willmott (written by) & Spike Lee (written by), Ron Stallworth (based on the book by)
Cast: Alec Baldwin, John David Washington, Adam Driver, Michael Buscemi