BlacKkKlansman ★★★★½

Despite its cool 70s veneer and at times outright hilarity, an entire history of destructive hate and fear on all sides that has long plagued the United States of America boils under the surface of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, a stranger-than-fiction retelling of the efforts of Colorado Springs’ first black police officer to infiltrate the local chapter of the KKK as an undercover detective. This film is many things, but subtle is not one of them.

The apple clearly doesn’t fall far from the tree in the Washington family. There’s a lot of his father Denzel in John David Washington, who plays the main character with swagger. Washington puts on a charming, funny, motivated, and heartfelt performance as Detective Ron Stallworth, an idealist with the unique ability to “speak both white and jive”, which unlocks access to both worlds. He also develops a complicated relationship with Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), the determined president of the black student union who has a complete distrust and hatred for police and for good reason, though Stallworth continually tries to play peacemaker with her, echoing the pleas of the more idealist members of the audience who are pleading for peace. On the other side of things, Stallworth gets to ingratiate himself with the grand wizard of the KKK, played with delicious and horrifying smarminess by Topher Grace. The racism is so deeply ingrained and matter of fact for some of these characters, it’s a wonder the actors could pull off such ugly statements with a straight face.

Washington shows Stallworth to be cool under pressure but also clearly scared when the situation calls for it and kinda making it up as he goes. Stallworth and his technically Jewish partner Flip Zimmerman, played by Adam Driver, combine to become both the voice and presence of white supremacist Ron Stallworth (Yep, same name), the man who hopes to become the newest KKK member. Together, Stallworth and Zimmerman provide the viewer with a window into multiple perspectives on the racial divide, from the varying levels of racism within the police department to militant blacks who are sick and tired of being afraid to white nationalists who speak out of both sides of their mouth, simultaneously pining for a pure white nation while claiming they have nothing against non-whites, to those whose hatred is so strong and foul they are willing to commit terrorist acts of murder.

From beginning to explosive ending, Spike Lee intends to shake the viewer. He uses humor to keep you engaged and off guard and then shockingly and painfully reveals the destructive nature of hate and fear. And yet, the need for self preservation against such evil keeps the cycle going as long as hate endures to this very day and beyond until who knows what?