Review: “BlacKkKlansman” explores racism

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The 2018 film "BlacKkKlansman" is an interpretation of a true story regarding the infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan. Photo courtesy of Gravillia Inc. (gravillisinc.com).

“BlacKkKlansman” is the latest film from politically-charged director Spike Lee. John David Washington stars as Ron Stallworth in this true story of a black police officer in Colorado Springs who’s chosen to head an investigation of the Ku Klux Klan. Stallworth talks with the Klansmen over the phone while his white partner, played by Adam Driver, meets with the men in person.

The best quality of this film is that it is a character study of the type of people one wouldn’t often focus on in a mainstream movie. “BlacKkKlansman” looks at the issue of racism from both sides while humanizing deplorable characters. Even though almost all of the African-American characters have no personality other than being for the black power movement, this film succeeds at giving each main racist character a different motivation and mindset.

“BlacKkKlansman” does a great job of comparing and contrasting the black power movement and white supremacists in the late 1970s. There is one scene that shifts back between a white supremacist meeting and a black power meeting, showing how both sides feel very strongly about their extremely contrary beliefs. While the Klansmen are presented more negatively, some were presented as reasonable people with unfavorable opinions.

However, there is an issue with a lack of likable characters for the audience to connect with because most of the movie focuses on these racist bigots. While I do enjoy Washington’s character, I find it difficult to connect with his character because of his lack of emotion and awkward performance, especially at the beginning. For example, when he first goes undercover, Washington acts in a way that feels very disconnected from the people around him which makes the portrayal seem unrealistic.

Adam Driver doesn’t develop his character enough either because he’s limited to acting like a racist for most of his screen time. Driver’s character is Jewish, but hangs out with these Klansmen that hate Jews, which is a compelling yet undeveloped concept because the film is solely occupied on diving into the controversy between black and white. It seems like this film uses morals to justify how much the audience should like a character, but the protagonists aren’t fleshed out enough and it often comes off as boring.

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This film contains a few references to current issues and makes statements about current racism in America. There is some very on-the-nose dialogue, and the film ends with footage from last year’s white supremacist march in Charlottesville. Despite how one may feel about these statements, it detracts from the film as a whole because it doesn’t flow with the rest of the film.  

It’s not that a movie can’t get political and present a strong opinion, it just feels like this plot is too superficial to sustain such a serious message. Most of this film does scorn these racist characters, but it is nowhere near as hateful as the footage shown at the end. “BlacKkKlansman” is a relatively light-hearted film, but I think Lee believes he’s making a much stronger message with this film than he actually is.

The direction of the film has quality, yet it’s lacking. There are a few really nice shots with slow camera movement, but the cinematography is a little too dark throughout. Even though there are a few issues with the look of the film, it doesn’t really distract from the tense narrative elements which shine through in the film.

The film comes off as a bit unorthodox in its approach, even though the story isn’t all that uncommon. There are some odd scene transitions and camera angles that give the film some style. Even though there were some impressive moments, Lee could’ve gone further into this and used a more creative or experimental visual style to bring more interest to the film.

The pacing of this film doesn’t flow very well. The first 20 minutes seem very long and a bit tedious. While there is some important setup, I wish it would’ve been done in a more engaging way. As much as I didn’t care for the movie at the start, the film makes up for it with an engrossing, tense ending. Though, “BlacKkKlansman” still feels too long and could’ve easily been five minutes shorter.

Even though “BlacKkKlansman” is a bit of a mixed bag, it’s a quality film overall. If the film was more uniformly interesting and entertaining, this would’ve been one of the best movies of the year. This premise isn’t wasted, but this was a missed opportunity to create something great.

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