CANNES – Spike Lee‘s “BlacKkKlansman" is his best film since 2006's "Inside Man" and, maybe even, 2002's "The 25th Hour," although it doesn't come close to equaling the aforementioned latter which is a indisputably great movie. No, this latest joint from Lee shares more similarities to "Inside Man," in its unequivocally joyous attempt to entertain in every which way possible.
It's also his most politically charged film since his heyday of racially-charged, social justice statements from the '90s. Although, Spike being Spike, I do feel he lays it on very thick in the last 5 or so minutes of the film by going a little too far with the politics and making obvious statements that the film made in more subtle ways during the previous 120 or so minutes. In these last 5 minutes there are attempts to paint President Donald J Trump as a sort of heir to KKK president David Duke, Lee even infuses footage of the protests in Charlottesville from earlier this year, which ended with the death of a protester, and Trump himself refusing to condemn by saying there were bad people on both sides. OK Spike, we understand.
"BlacKkKlansman" is an incredibly entertaining undercover cop movie, based on Ron Stallworth’s 2014 novel “Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime”. Set in 1972, the film tells Stallworth's too crazy to be true story, as the first black undercover investigator for the Colorado Springs Police Department. He joined the Ku Klux Klan by masquerading as a bigot on the phone, he even spoke to Duke (Topher Grace) and formed a kind of bond with him. Stallworth was eventually asked to join "The Organization" which is code for the KKK, he accepted and launches an investigation with his partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) doing the dirty work by going on the front-lines as Stallworth.
I know this was based on a true story, but isn't it a little far-fetched to think the Klan wouldn't realize that Zimmerman doesn't sound at all like Stallworth on the phone? Regardless of that irksome detail, the film does work, especially when it delves into satiric comedy.
The film does feel routine and uneven at times, but there's a furious anger unleashed onscreen that hasn't been seen from Spike in, what, at least 15 years? The political climate has rejuvenated him and given him a new sense of purpose. This is funny, moving, vital, flawed, messy, ambitious, you get the drift.
"BlacKkKlansman" is no doubt an edgy provocation and reminded me of why I used to love Spike Lee's films so damn much. There are flaws, but, except for "Do The Right Thing," all of Lee's great movies are imperfect. That mad ambitious messiness. That's why we love him, he infused so much passion and anger in his classic films that they damn-near threaten to spiral out of control. The fact that they were held together and deliver a kind of beautiful artistry is what made them memorably contagious.
It ain't perfect, but welcome back Spike, we missed ya.
UPDATED: When it comes to Chi-Raq. I was completely not taken by the movie. I admired its ambitions, though. I'll give you Lee that. He swung for the fences with that movie. However, at this point in his career I think the best he can do is, actually, BlackKklansman. Great movie. Almost felt like Spike Lee's greatest hits, his "The Departed." As crazy as that sounds. [B+]