Film Review: ‘BlackKklansman’ Is a Bulldozer of Potency and is Spike Lee’s Best in 16 Years

It has been years since Spike Lee has moved his audience with his filmmaking.  The iconic director has managed some outstanding revelations throughout his career including “Do the Right Thing,” “Malcolm X,” and “25th Hour.”  With his newest endeavor “BlackKklansman,” the adaptation of the book by its subject Ron Stallworth, he very well could have offered up his most daring and finest directorial achievement ever.  Headlined by a rapturous performance by John David Washington, and a crackling script full of laughs and deeply moving moments, “BlackKklansman” sizzles every moment on the screen.

The film tells the story of Ron Stallworth (Washington), an African-American police officer from Colorado, who successfully manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan and became the head of the local chapter.  Along with his Jewish partner Flip (Adam Driver), the two meet a cast of despicable characters including the vile David Duke (Topher Grace).

Emulating an outing we might have seen from The Coen Brothers at one point in their career, co-writer and director Spike Lee paints a stunning portrait of a man, eager to do good, but driven by another force that isn’t just about race.  In this era of #BlackLivesMatter and a palpable division in our country, Lee doesn’t overplay his hand with his delivery.  He envelops a sense of a calm, something we haven’t seen too much from him as of late.  What that said, the four-person script that includes Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott at times feel as though they are from two different set of perspectives.  There’s passion behind the construction of each character, but some lines and beats seem shoehorned in to make a point.  All forgivable but undoubtedly noticeable.

John David Washington sets the screen ablaze, showing his own acting chops while still resembling the best parts of his iconic father.  Adam Driver‘s turn is much more subtle, and something that you may not remark in a loud, boisterous film.  Topher Grace is brief but excellent as David Duke while Laura Harrier is nearly unrecognizable as the groovy but powerful Patrice.

Technically, the film is among the very best constructions of Lee’s career.  Chayse Irvin, who may know as the DP behind Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” two years ago, swallows the screen with stunning frames and tension.  It’s an absolute worthy tribute that is worth Oscar’s attention.  Walking away, the music of Terence Blanchard is downright sumptuous, building the anxiety in each beat until it explodes, quite literally.

BlackKklansman” crackles with vigor, juggling the tones with an expert handling.  It’s sophistication in portraying the racial tones of our history, and stitching it through the moments of today, is keenly observed and delicately wielded.  It’s one of the year’s most ass-kicking surprises.

“BlackKklansman” is distributed by Focus Features and opens in theaters on Aug. 10.

GRADE: (★★★½)