Arts & Leisure

“Black KKKlansman” isn’t black & white

ADAM DRIVER and John David Washington star in “Black KKKlansman.”

By Jim Tortolano

As a film, “Black KKKlansman” is quite an accomplishment, melding creative technique, fine performances and an interesting story. As a political movie, it’s the kind of creation which would infuriate supporters of President Donald Trump and delight those who oppose him.

Although “KKKlansman” is set in the 1970s – based on a true story – it nevertheless is aimed squarely at making a statement about the America of today. The clues are subtle throughout most of the film – one character shouts “America first!” – but in case you didn’t get it, clips of the president and the violent clashes between white nationalists and counter-protestors in Charlottesville,Virginia, at the end sort of (no pun intended, maybe) hit you over the head.

DIrected by Spike Lee, who shares writing credit with three others, this is the story of Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington, the son of Denzel Washington) who starts a campaign of infiltrating the Klan in Colorado Springs, Colorado while serving as a police officer there.

Stallworth sounds convincing enough on the phone to his KKK contact, but wouldn’t exactly pass muster in person, so he recruits fellow officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to be his white in-person version.

What follows is a combination of drama, comedy and social commentary. Lee, to his credit, does not make the story divide along black vs. white lines; it says more about the follies of any absolutist philosophy based on hatred of another group.

There is a romance, a lot of tension and a heavy layering of social commentary. Washington proves to be a very able actor who has stolen no style from his father. Props also go to Driver, who has to – in a sense – play  two characters with diametrically opposed natures.

Jasper Paakkonen steals some scenes as the loose cannon Klan member who suspects Driver of being Jewish. Topher Grace is a fine David Duke, sincere and finally bamboozled by the undercover operation.

This is no light entertainment. You might be outraged in any one of several directions, but you won’t be indifferent, which is probably what Lee intended.

“Black KKKlansman” is rated R for language, violence and some thematic material.

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