Review / ‘BlacKkKlansman’ (MA) *** and a half

AFRO-American Spike Lee has an impressive filmography, director (83 titles), producer (71 credits) and writer (22 credits), many of which embrace the same film.  

Not all of them have been screened in Canberra. So I was delighted to learn that this tense, race-hatred drama, based on real events, was on its way here.
In 1979, 26-year-old black officer Ron Stallworth, of the Colorado Springs Police Department’s intelligence section, was assigned to cover an address by Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) at a black night club.  

Back at the office, Stallworth phoned a number in the local paper telling readers how to get in touch with the local Ku Klux Klan chapter. He announced himself as a white supremacist who hated coloured people of all races, seeking information about joining the Klan. The film tells what happened in consequence.

It’s an exciting drama, with Stallworth getting departmental approval to take the contact further. In a complex plan, Jewish fellow officer Flip Zimmerman, wearing a wire, impersonated Stallworth in face-to-face meetings with local Klan leaders. The pair slowly worked their way up the Klan hierarchy to its very peak, national leader David Duke.

After retiring in 2014 Stallworth wrote a book about the nine months during which the sting developed to a successful conclusion. Lee’s screenplay combines verifiable reality drawn from that book with what may or may not be a mote of creativity that, whatever its origins, rings true.

The film has a large cast of skilled actors, many not well known in Australia. John David Washington plays Stallworth and Adam Driver plays Zimmerman. Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Pääkkonen) and his ferociously bigoted wife Connie (Ashlie Atkinson) elevate the film’s tensions. Topher Grace is David Duke.

The film opens with Kwame Ture’s address, stirring rhetoric, great cinema.  Nearly two hours’ film time later, the same applies to the first phase in its action-packed coda when Connie Kendrickson hides a bomb under the car belonging to Stallworth’s girlfriend.  This works convincingly enough for its verity not to matter.

At all cinemas

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