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‘BlacKkKlansman’ is a messy, meaningful wake-up punch

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O say, can you see, the union upside down…

Unless someone or something is in “extreme danger,” displaying an inverted star-spangled banner is an offense. Well, when this, thisthis and this, plus their spin-offs continuously plague headlines and timelines, we’re in major jeopardy, all right. Since the waning months of 2016, more and more names believe that “rewind is the new play” for this world, that George Santayana is more snowflake than philosopher when he equated repeating bygone days with invoking doom. If these don’t warrant an S.O.S. signal, what will? Spike Lee may have defied the law and reached peak non-subtlety in including it in his latest feature, BlacKkKlansman, but, considering the status quo, he did the right thing.

Someone who also has righteousness on his mind is BlacKkKlansman’s lead, Det. Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, father’s smoothness inherited), the afro-powered, super-smooth, deescalate-first and brand-new hire of the Colorado Springs PD. He is the force’s Jackie Robinson, his superiors warn, but he doesn’t mind. Thankfully, surrounding Stallworth are colleagues such as Det. Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver, trademark cucumber-cool), who trust him and share the need to excise hate everywhere. Time is short, however, as the possibility of a local race-driven attack is growing, what with both Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins, passionate if fleeting) and David Duke (Topher Grace, admirably committed) arriving in town to grace their respective crowds.

Though risk is inherent, it isn’t what Lee seeks to emphasize or doubly hammer home, if we look at his previous joints. Like the “fo’real, fo’real sh*t,” aka autobiography, the film adapted from, Stallworth wants to see what’s under the resident white hoods, using Zimmerman as his avatar (a-ha, an upgrade from July’s Sorry to Bother You’s “white voice” to white guy!), and save for a “Jew lie detector” sequence and a late-game’s execution of a bombing plot, suspense is at most a whiff in BlacKkKlansman. Grace’s Duke, Ryan Eggold’s articulate Walter Breachway (the chapter’s leader) and especially Jasper Pääkkönen’s hyper-paranoid Felix Kendrickson (said leader’s right-hand man) aren’t half-bakers in embodying wicked supremacists. Pay attention to Paul Walter Hauser’s turn as the loyal bodyguard/twin of Shawn in I, Tonya, Ivanhoe, as well, his balancing between evil and buffoonery is home to many key laughs.

Positivity is the true centerpiece in BlacKkKlansman. Lee cares not if you think Stallworth’s mingling with Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier, dauntless), the Colorado College Black Student Union’s president, or those extended, screen-breaching sermons about people and power, fierily delivered by Hawkins’ Ture and later on activist/lynching witness Jerome Turner (Harry Belafonte, memorable), give the investigation a staccato pace. But as auxiliary as they are, the filmmaker deems it vital for us to experience them. Mandatory. Why? Some of us have forgotten our foundation being the same values these particular characters stand for, and so the film’s reality is now ours. Be it in a group toe-tapping to “Too Late to Turn Back Now,” in the faces that are literally buoyed by Ture’s speech, or in those feeling additional empowerment through Turner’s, inclusivity and the pursuit of it are framed as “the answer.” Don’t like it? Well, you will fumble as you hate, not unlike Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard (Alec Baldwin, hilarious) who, in the film’s opener, can’t finish his “mongrel nation” hullabaloo — with Gone with the Wind as one of the backdrops, no less! — without someone off-screen feeding the lines.

If only all the hatemongers in existence share the character’s foolishness. Not in this climate, unfortunately. While BlacKkKlansman may unfold as a triptych of rage, fun and pride, what it is is a call to fly at full-staff the willingness to preserve good. To the sensible minded among you: You will hear it, for sure, since its delivery is thoroughly electrifying. Perhaps answer it, too; it’s effortlessly understandable.

And don’t forget that right now society is, SHEEEEEEEEEEIT, pretty upended.

Grade: A-

Author: Nguyen Le, CC2K Staff Writer

I love film enough to pack up and fly across the Pacific to write about them. On a mission to add some Vietnamese, or Asian, presence in the film-writing world, first stop being Houston where I’m based. You bet I can make hella good ca phe sua da and equally so omelette. See my bylines at the The Cougar and Cooglife, University of Houston’s two publications, Houston Chronicle, Austin Chronicle, InSession Film and The Young Folks. Member of Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. Find me on Facebook (@nguyen.le.334) or Twitter (@nle318) — I’m all smiles at both places and so should you!

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