There’s a deep-rooted discomfort at the heart of “BlacKkKlansman” and it’s the fact that instead of being a historical, true story poking cautionary fun at the ignorance of the past, it instead feels like a howl of furious irony at the recidivism of modern-day America.
In 1979, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), Colorado Springs’ first African-American police officer successfully managed to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan, recruits his Jewish coworker, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), to act as him in order to meet the Klan members in person.
“BlacKkKlansman” marks a searing return to form for Lee, as he leverages the absurdity of historic events into an all-too-revealing mirror for the current socio-political climate in America. Every laugh – and there are plenty because this is a funny film – is accompanied by a wince, not just at the brazen malice and hatred being displayed by the characters on screen but also because the echoes of their hateful acts and utterances are almost louder now than they were back then.
John David Washington and Adam Driver deliver superb performances and the supporting cast assay a veritable white rainbow of the spectrum of racism at the time from Police Chief Bridges (Robert John Burke) and his tolerance of Frederick Weller’s loathsomely racist Patrolman Andy Landers through the hateful ignorance of Klan bumpkin ‘Ivanhoe’ (Paul Walter Hauser) to radicalized would-be terrorist Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Pääkkönen)
The screenplay is replete with replays of today’s slogans and dog-whistles and while it may indulge in some dramatic licence when it comes to the finale and even streamlines some of Stallworth’s undercover activity, it’s in service of an undeniably powerful message and a compelling narrative that walks a fine line between humour and horror.
The decision in the final few moments of the film to focus on the modern-day outrages of Charlottesville may seem somewhat heavy-handed to the choir to which the film may have been preaching but in including it, Lee feels like he’s seeking to hit those who are too obtuse, ignorant, jaded or obstinate to acknowledge the historic parallels without being slapped across the face with it.
Entertaining, powerful, provocative and timely, “BlacKkKlansman” is a searing indictment of a fearful nation under God, fractured and divided, with liberty and justice for some.