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dir Spike Lee
scr Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
prd Spike Lee, Jordan Peele, Jason Blum, Raymond Mansfield, Sean McKittrick, Shaun Redick
with John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Ryan Eggold, Jasper Paakkonen, Corey Hawkins, Ashlie Atkinson, Robert John Burke, Michael Joseph Buscemi, Frederick Weller, Paul Walter Hauser
release US 10.Aug.18, UK 24.Aug.18
18/US Focus 2h15
A card-carrying member: Driver and Washington
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
There's a fire burning inside this film, sometimes simmering, sometimes throwing flames into the audience: it's powerful, urgent, unquenchable. Spike Lee channels his frustration at the endemic imbalance in American society into a story that's remarkably light-hearted and so outrageous that it's of course all true. So along with the pungent themes are wonderful characters and wildly entertaining situations that leave the audience deeply moved.
In late-1970s Colorado Springs, young black policeman Ron (Washington), tired of being treated like a second-tier officer, takes an undercover assignment watching Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael (Hawkins) when he speaks at the university, where he meets student leader Patrice (Harrier). While pursuing a relationship, he decides to investigate the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan, applying for membership by phone. Then for in-person meetings, Jewish detective Flip (Driver) stands in, meeting local leader Walter (Eggold), true-believers Felix and Connie (Paakkonen and Atkinson) and even top boss David Duke (Grace) himself.
The script is packed with fleshed-out characters and situations that build a strong sense of authenticity, mixing earthy humour with emotions and political passion. Relationships are offhanded and honest, leading to a series of frankly mind-boggling set-pieces that are skilfully crosscut together in the final act. And each scene overflows with surprising touches, from an opening clip featuring a sputtering Alec Baldwin to a harrowing story recounted on-screen by Harry Belafonte.
Washington brings feisty personality to the role, making Ron both likeable and compelling. He plays hilariously on the irony of a black cop becoming a KKK member, and has terrific chemistry with the actors around him. Driver, meanwhile, finds quietly riveting textures to his character that continually catch the audience off-guarde. And while everyone on-screen is solid, it's refreshing that nobody tries to be a scene-stealer. That said, pretty much everyone has moments that are funny or intense.
With artful and energetic direction, Lee weaves so much into each scene that the film can't help but trigger all kinds of responses. The depictions of culture and politics burst with energy, augmented by superb hair, costumes and music. And there are not-so-thinly veiled references to Trump and Black Lives Matter. In other words, the salient idea is that not so much has changed in the past 40 years. Indeed, the jump cut to the final coda is such a jolt that it takes the breath away, leaving the audience gasping for breath.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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