By Liz Lopez
Director Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. It is the almost unbelievable true story of a Colorado Springs black police detective, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, “Ballers” TV series, “Malcolm X”) who conducted a risky undercover investigation that led to him ultimately being granted Ku Klux Klan membership in the 1970s. The screenplay, based on the book by Ron Stallworth, is written by the director, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott. The biography, drama and crime film is also noted as a comedy – there is nothing comedic about the corruption and racism, but many of the members of “the Organization” (as the Colorado Springs KKK branch referred to itself), are either not very literate or organized, leading to outright comedy. From the opening scenes featuring Scarlett O’Hara and leading toward an ending with recent events captured on video about marches and plowing into people, this is a film not to be missed.
It would be a shame to reveal so much in this review about the details of Ron Stallworth’s story in “BlacKkKlansman” and I will make all efforts to not provide spoilers. Washington performance is outstanding and it will certainly highlight his talent and face, hopefully leading to more film work after his recent television work. Adam Driver (“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”) is so well known and his turn as fellow cop of Jewish background, Flip Zimmerman, might have upstaged Washington because of the role that he had in helping with the infiltration of the KKK. There is a large cast in the film and there is not one performance that falters or is disappointing at all.
The film’s featured cast includes Corey Hawkins as the ex-Black Panther and civil rights leader Kwame Ture speaking to students at the local college. Laura Harrier stars as Patrice, a student leader on campus that Ron meets and he admires as he is on an undercover assignment sent by Sergeant Trapp (Ken Garito), supervisor of the department’s undercover unit. Harry Belafonte stars as Jerome Turner, an elder that is invited to speak to a group of black students and activists about his witnessing a lynching.
Topher Grace takes on the role of then-Grand Wizard David Duke and his performance is fun as we watch him become engaged by Ron and his philosophy and interest to join. Among some of the members of the local chapter are Walter (Ryan Eggold), Felix (Jasper Paakkonen) and Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser) and Connie Kendrickson (an outstanding Ashlie Atkinson, “Jessica Jones” TV series).
It is the 1970s and the Colorado Springs Police Department does not appear to have yet taken the initiative to have a more diverse staff at the time. When he is hired on after some questions that would now be considered unacceptable, Chief Bridges (Robert John Burke) assigns him to the records room. When the undercover unit gives Ron an opportunity for an assignment, he dives into it with no looking back. Flip Zimmerman (Driver) serves as “the face” of Ron at in-person meetings with the Klan, as he continues his investigation largely by phone. Ron’s assignment also serves as Duke’s security detail on a visit to Colorado Springs. You just have to see film to believe this incredible story.
Camera (color): Chayse Irvin. Editor: Barry Alexander Brown. Music: Terence Blanchard.
Producers: Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Ray Mansfield, Jordan Peele, Spike Lee, Shaun Redick. Executive producers: Marcei A. Brown, Edward H. Hamm Jr. Co-producers: David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel.
The film is rated R and the running time is 2 hours 14 minutes. It opens in theaters August 10th.
Source: Focus Features