Going by the early reviews following its premiere in competition at Cannes, BlacKkKlansman just might become Spike Lee’s biggest commercial hit since Inside Man (2006). Produced by Get Out writer and director Jordan Peele, the new film tells the unbelievably true story of how Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a black detective in Colorado, infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan over the phone in the 1970s, while another cop, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), would pose as Stallworth in face-to-face meetings.
The Village Voice’s Bilge Ebiri finds BlacKkKlansman “alternatingly comic, heroic, tragic, horrifying, ridiculous, dead serious, clear-eyed, and confused; it shifts into moments of documentary and even essay film, but it’s also one of Lee’s more entertaining and vibrantly constructed works. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a movie exploit its tonal mismatches so voraciously and purposefully.”
Though the A.V. Club’s A. A. Dowd finds that the film has neither the “volcanic personality and power” of Do the Right Thing (1989) nor the “sheer baptizing outrage” of Bamboozled (2000), it “still counts as a rousing comeback for the writer-director: a messy, proudly mainstream, sometimes riotously funny biopic-crowd-pleaser about fighting, and clowning on, the dipshit thugs of skinhead America.”
The Los Angeles Times’ Justin Chang suggests that if Chi-Raq (2015) “reawakened Lee’s energy and imagination as a satirist, a vital voice on the realities of racialized violence in American society, then his furious, beautifully controlled BlacKkKlansman brings him roaring fully back to life. It may not be as conceptually audacious as that earlier picture, but its fusion of incendiary vigor and pulpy, pop-savvy entertainment is something to behold.”
The premiere has proven to be an emotional experience for the filmmaker and audiences alike. As Kyle Buchanan reports for Vulture, BlacKkKlansman “left many attendees in tears thanks to its coda: A documentary montage of the conflict in Charlottesville, astoundingly edited, that ends with a dedication to Heather Heyer, who was run down and killed when a man drove his car into a group of people protesting white nationalism.” When asked about this final sequence at the press conference, Lee launched into a rousing tirade against right-wing extremism, not just in the U.S., but around the world. Buchanan reproduces Lee’s remarks on full.
For more on BlacKkKlansman, see Nicholas Bell (Ioncinema, 3.5/5), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 3/5), Martyn Conterio (CineVue, 4/5), Peter Debruge (Variety), David Ehrlich (IndieWire, B+), Tim Grierson (Screen), Richard Lawson (Vanity Fair), Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter), Tim Robey (Telegraph, 4/5), Barbara Scharres (RogerEbert.com), Emily Yoshida (Vulture), and Stephanie Zacharek (Time). And the Hollywood Reporter’s Tatiana Siegel talks with Lee, Peele, Driver, and Washington.
Update, 5/27: “We had to connect David Duke to Agent Orange today,” Lee tells Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, and at Filmmaker, Blake Williams finds “an urgency and implicit dread to Lee’s dogmatic approach—a fear that we can’t, at any cost, let these points escape anyone again.” More from Martyn Conterio (CineVue, 4/5), Lawrence Garcia (Notebook), Jessica Kiang (Playlist, B), Rory O’Connor (Film Stage, B), Richard Porton (Daily Beast), and Adam Woodward (Little White Lies). And BlacKkKlansman is one of the films Nicolas Rapold, Amy Taubin, Jonathan Romney, and Eric Hynes on the Film Comment Podcast (49’22”).
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