This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Sebastian Butt’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
My initial assessment of this film was likely influenced by heightened emotions present in the screening. This film pushes a lot of buttons to be sure. But stepping back to look at it on a second viewing it engages in a lot of cheap theatrics. In fact, the film seems to revel in pulling the audience's strings with tragedy while sidestepping its real message. Harry Belafonte recounting the death of one of his friends in 1916 at the hands of a white mob is searing and heart rending in its brutality, but it doesn't do anything but momentarily distract from the main duality that Ron is trying to espouse. It's Lee again placing real events into the context of his film but not fully staying on task in explaining how the narrative supports the police, which is the biggest assertion the film has to answer for.
The most damning piece of the narrative is how openly the film celebrates the police. There have been a lot of credible criticisms of Spike Lee and his capitulation with the NYPD and here he does himself no favors placing a police officer at the center of the narrative and really leaving the relationship between police and white supremacy in America unexamined. In fact, he seems to be actively trying to have his cake and eat it too by having Ron intone "I'm a police officer, and I'm still for the liberation of black people". The true ending of the film, by contrast feels like an afterthought. It doesn't seem to relate to the rest of the film in quite the way I first thought it did. Yes, the real David Duke is present and the obvious connections to the Trump administration are there, but nothing about Lee's assertion that someone can both be part of a system that oppresses black people and still be for the liberation of black people fits. It seems like more cheap theatrics. A way to hook the audience emotionally with a timely tragedy. Also, it is never expressed that the police let the Charlottesville rally happen. They supported Unite the Right. If Lee was actually trying to connect these dots he could have started there. He could paint Ron as less sympathetic in his selfish duality, but he never does. Ron just comes of as kind of cool and funny. I'm sure he really could have found the connection between the Klan and the police if he looked hard enough, but it honestly just seems like he doesn't want to.