BlacKkKlansman

Some movies have a point they’re trying to make, some don’t at all. Some have some deep themes they want to explore, while some just want to entertain. What you always need, though, is a good story. Without a good story to latch onto, there’s not much there to really care about. When you’re a filmmaker trying to make a social statement, that’s perfectly welcome in the cinematic world. However, if you have something to say, then you better be entertaining me while you’re saying it. Isn’t that one of the reasons why we watch movies? 
 
Based on true events in 1972, BlacKkKlansman follows Ron Stalworth (John David Washington), the first black police detective at the Colorado Springs Police Department. Unhappy with his mistreatment in the records room, he devises a way to go undercover. He ends up calling up a suspicious, local Ku Klax Klan charter, pretending to be a white man. When the KKK wants to meet him, the department sends in white Jew Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to stand in for Ron. As the two men go deeper into the vile, racist world of the Klan, they discover the group may be plotting a terrorist attack and wonder if this battle that can ever be won at all. 
 
There are a lot of things I look for in movies, but the number one thing I don’t want in absolutely any of them is boredom. Entertainment can be achieved through many forms, even with something as mundane as just walking and talking. BlacKkKlansman has a lot of elements that I find intriguing, such as a bizarre true story, some humorous social satire, and commentary on American race relations. The problem with this is that it’s all about the point, and not about the story. In fact, I’m not really sure what the story is here. The plot is about a black detective infiltrating the KKK, but where’s the story? Throughout the film, Stalworth and Zimmerman go through identity crises as they try to navigate the racist underworld. At the beginning of the film, Stalworth begins with a relationship with a politically active black college student, which makes him juggle with the fact that although he’s a black police officer, he’s still part of the system that oppresses their people. The thing is, this dilemma is never really resolved. Nor the internal conflict with Zimmerman having to shed his Jewish roots in order to fit in with the Klan. These are great themes, but they’re never fully explored, nor are they given satisfying payoffs. Washington (son of the much more charismatic and charming Denzel Washington) and Driver do their best, but there’s really not much to who they’re portraying. 
 
This lack of interesting characterization wouldn’t be too huge of an issue if the film were at least visually interesting, which it’s not in the slightest. For a film with such a zany premise, you would think there would be some energy in the proceedings. The actors do a fine job delivering the occasionally amusing dialogue, but a lot of it just them sitting around and talking, with drab, lazy cinematography. The musical choices felt woefully misguided, too. Some scenes felt so quiet, that a little score would’ve have been nice, and some scenes with overbearing music that just doesn’t need to be there. There was just no style or fun to be found anywhere. The editing is just the worst, too, constantly cutting around mid-dialogue and lingering on shots for too long. Even when people’s lives were at stake, I never felt any suspense, nor any sort of real dramatic thrust. It all felt disjointed and unfocused from top to bottom. 
 
Since the characters and story are complete non-starters and the film is stylistically dull, all BlacKkKlansman has to fall back on are its message and themes. Messages and themes that have absolutely no nuance or depth to them. All I gleaned from the film’s themes were, “Racism is bad and it’s still around to this day.” That’s it. The thing is, Spike Lee, we know racism is bad. Are there still racist people out there in our country? Absolutely, but saying “racism is bad and still around,” doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s a completely empty statement that points out a problem without any suggestion for a solution. It’s just a bunch of radical political ideas from both sides being presented at their very face values, with no nuance or really any opportunity for discussion or thought. The KKK members are all portrayed as cartoonishly racist, one scene having them hooting and hollering during a screening of D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. As one of my favorite documentaries, Accidental Courtesy, showed, these people are racist for a reason. Lee never explains any of those reasons. Just, “Look at how racist these people are!” There’s no nuance to be found. 
 
Any semblance of subtlety is completely thrown out the window at the end, where Lee breaks the narrative of the film to show real footage of the 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right Rally, including the footage of the car attack that killed somebody. The footage is indeed disturbing and shows how far certain portions of our country still have left to go, but like the rest of the film, it does a lot of talking without really saying anything. It also comes off as incredibly tacky to use real life footage, as it shows Lee didn’t have the confidence that he got his point across. As far as I’m concerned then, that means he failed as a filmmaker here. I can’t really say I was surprised, though. Halfway through the film, when I was bored and unimpressed with the lack of thematic depth, I just thought, “Well, I’m not sure what I was expecting.” It’s certainly a Spike Lee film through and through, which could be a good or bad thing. In this case, it certainly isn’t Do the Right Thing or Inside Man. 
 
But even if you do have a whole lot to say, it’s really means nothing when there’s not an engrossing story or strong characters to keep us engaged. BlacKkKlansman seemed to lack these elements on all fronts. Just like a college student, it’s blunt, in your face, and thinks it’s making an insightful commentary, while really not saying anything at all. Grounded, realistic films about black-white race relations in the United States have become more and more common recently and some of them, like Blindspotting and Get Out, have been phenomenal. This one, however, completely misses the mark. 

4.5/10 

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