“Some men speak the Queen’s English. Some speak Jive. I’m fluent in both”– Ron Stallworth (paraphrased from memory)
Director Spike Lee’s latest picture tells the 1972-set story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) who becomes the first black police officer Colorado Springs has seen. Stallworth decides to lead an undercover investigation of the Ku Klux Klan, with a Jewish officer (Adam Driver) standing for Ron during the in-person portion of the infiltration. Meanwhile, Stallworth must also maintain a second facade around his love interest Patrice (Laura Harrier), the militant leader of a black student union he met while undercover at a Black Power event.
This is a great movie. One could devote plenty of digital ink to the political and cultural commentary of the movie and writers far more skilled and able to than I have and will. Although I will address some of that, this review will focus on the film as a movie.
Given the serious and heavy subject matter, one would be surprised that the movie is quite enjoyable. The movie has its fair share of moments dedicated to levity and often emulates “buddy-cop” movies with the sense of camaraderie within the unit, such as the number of scenes where Ron is fucking with the Klan and his partners are listening in and struggling to stifle their laughter. The movie never loses sight of its commentary and is appropriately serious and tense when it needs to be but also never threatens to drown the audience in pontification or bleakness.
The performances and characterization in this movie are all phenomenal. A particular performance I wanted to comment upon was Topher Grace embodying a young version of KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. Being a big fan of That ‘70s Show, it was unintentionally humorous to see Eric in this role. This, combined with Topher’s deliberate acts, creates an affable version of this figure. Rather than being fire-and-brimstone, David Duke is soft-spoken and charismatic, yet still very sure and confident in his messaging.
The bulk of the commentary focuses on how little has changed in terms of race relations since the setting of the movie. Given the topical issue of police killing black citizens and our hero’s occupation, the relationship between the police force and the black community is a big focus of the film. The majority of the commentary is subtle and even when the parallels get more overt, it is still seamlessly integrated into the plot and fits the characters and time setting, with the film saving its sole exception and most direct statement for the very end of the movie.
Although I’m sure a thorough examination of the movie would reveal more negatives, I have virtually no problems with the movie upon a first watch. To reiterate, this movie is phenomenal on all levels, from plotting to performances. It being a film with a lot to comment about doesn’t detract from being an enjoyable flick. I would highly recommend this movie.