BlacKkKlansman Movie Review

Spike Lee mixes laughter with anger in the truth is stranger than fiction tale BlacKkKlansman. While it takes some liberties with historical accuracies (set seven years earlier than when its events actually transpired), there’s no mistaking Lee’s connecting of the then with the now. He’s not a subtle filmmaker and this finds him in his feisty and stylish element.

It’s 1972 and we know that from the strategically placed Nixon re-election signs. There’s also discussions on who’s a better movie hero – Superfly or Shaft? Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is a rookie cop hired as the first black officer in Colorado Springs. His superiors assign him to go undercover at a civil rights rally to monitor behavior. That leads Stallworth requesting a more unconventional operation, especially for the era. He wishes to infiltrate the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, a group whose actions are more worthy of keeping tabs on. The color of his skin obviously presents a challenge. So while he establishes a relationship with Klansmen over the phone, it’s fellow detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) who joins them.

The main characters of the local Klan organization are the untrusting Felix (Jasper Paakkonen), the too trusting Walter (Ryan Eggold), and trusted to be always drunk Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser). Stallworth’s telephone skills eventually put him in touch with Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace). It so happens that the Klan’s targets could involve Stallworth’s love interest Patrice (Laura Harrier), the president of the black student union.

BlacKkKlansman is a police procedural for much of its running time with numerous excursions in grander issues. There’s a wonderfully edited sequence going back and forth between two very different rallies discussing the same subject – D.W. Griffith’s incendiary 1915 epic The Birth of a Nation. While this is set 46 years ago, the screenplay explores that time over 100 years ago in riveting fashion. It also touches on the present day in Charlottesville with fierce urgency.

There are times when Lee is saying that little has really changed. Washington (whose voice in particular resembles his father Denzel’s) shows himself to be a promising performer. Some of the biggest laughs come from his phone banter with the clueless Duke. Driver’s character has perhaps the most interesting story arc. He’s a non-practicing Jew who’s at first ambivalent about his assignment. His disgust with the people he’s infiltrated with soon matches that of Stallworth. The romance with Patrice is a bit underwritten, but it’s a minor quibble.

Tonal shifts are abundant here. It serves less as a distraction than a message that humor can be found through the pain of racism and the characters who display it. The images of Charlottesville also show both rallies in that event and it’s a heart wrenching scene. BlacKkKlansman, through light and dark moments, is a stark reminder of our past and present that is Lee’s own rallying cry.

***1/2 (out of four)

BlacKkKlansman Box Office Prediction

***Blogger’s Note II (08/09/18): My estimate is once again increasing – from $7.6M to $9.6M

**Blogger’s Note (08/08/18): I have revised my estimate from $5.6M up to $7.6M

The latest Spike Lee joint is the first in a while that comes with Oscar buzz and widespread  critical acclaim when BlacKkKlansman debuts next weekend. The true life crime flick about an African-American detective infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and was instantly a highlight. Its Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 96%.

The cast includes John David Washington (son of Denzel), Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Corey Hawkins, Paul Walter Hauser, and Harry Belafonte. Jason Blum and Jordan Peele serve as producers. The awards buzz could give this a shot at performing decently as it opens on approximately 1500 screens.

One comp that BlacKkKlansman might want to avoid is Detroit, which opened around the same time last year to disappointing results. That pic made $7.1 million in its first wide release frame on about twice as many screens.

This seems to garnering more buzz, however. I’ll say Mr. Lee’s latest manages between $5-6 million.

BlacKkKlansman opening weekend prediction: $9.6 million

For my The Meg prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/07/31/the-meg-box-office-prediction/

For my Slender Man prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/07/31/slender-man-box-office-prediction/

For my Dog Days prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/07/31/dog-days-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: BlacKkKlansman

It’s been almost 30 years since the Academy suffered a bit of backlash when Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing missed the cut of Best Picture nominees. Since then, the writer/director has had critical hits and misses and none of his joints have managed to score a nod for the top prize (including 1992’s acclaimed Malcolm X).

That could finally change as his latest, BlacKkKlansman, was unleashed today at the Cannes Film Festival. It tells the true and amazing story of an African-American cop in the 1970s who infiltrated a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. John David Washington (son of Lee’s frequent star Denzel) plays the role with a supporting cast that includes Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Corey Hawkins, Paul Walter Hauser, Harry Belafonte, and Topher Grace as David Duke. Blumhouse Productions (the studio behind last year’s Get Out) distributes with its director Jordan Peele as a producer. The film opens stateside this August.

Early buzz from the French Riviera indicates this is Lee’s strongest, most mainstream, and entertaining and timely movie in some time. It seems destined to receive plenty of attention later this summer.

Could that translate to a Best Picture nomination and one for Lee’s direction? The Cannes attention raises that prospect considerably. As for performances, Washington is getting very positive writeups. The same applies to Driver (playing Washington’s partner) and Grace as the former KKK head. Either one of them could see strong campaigns mounted in Supporting Actor. If I had to guess right now, Blumhouse might focus more on Driver.

Bottom line: BlacKkKlansman was one of the festival’s most eagerly awaited pictures and its unveiling today could lead to months long Oscar chatter.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…