After attending a Kwame Ture speech undercover in the early 1970’s, rookie detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is emboldened to make contact with David Duke (Topher Grace), leader of the Ku Klux Klan, in order to infiltrate their organization. Since Stallworth, who is black, made contact with Duke over the phone, Phillip Zimmerman (his partner, played by Adam Driver) must physically appear at chapter meetings in his stead to properly execute his operation. While investigating their targets, and navigating nuanced racial tensions caused by Zimmerman’s Jewish heritage and Stallworth’s being a part of the racist Colorado Springs Police Department, the pair uncover a sinister plot.
Pen Game: The story and dialogue in this film are incredible. While the cast’s performance (which I am considering for an award) was great, there were moments I could feel the writers performing, sometimes outshining the actors on screen. Not only is the film not afraid to “go there,” with regard to serious racial subjects, it is also not afraid to incorporate humor. This is especially signified with a running joke about “CP Time”/tardiness.
John David Washington: Washington lead this cast spectacularly, while conveying the subtle internal struggles of a black man who loves his people, but also works in and for a system that seeks to degrade him and his those beloved to him at every turn. There are, of course, moments where I can see Denzel Washington (his father) shining through this actor, but after checking out interviews of Ron Stallworth in real life, the work John David applied to developing and staying true to this character was phenomenal and worth consideration for best lead actor.
Spike Lee Joint Relief: Spike Lee bringing his historical knowledge, creative direction and other signature techniques (yes, like that conveyor belt shot he loves) to this film rescue it from being too slapstick or humorous for the subjects or the era.
Soul Training?: For a movie that takes place in the 70’s involving black folks, there is an unbearably low levels of “soul.” Other than John David, the black characters in this movie seemed to study more 70’s buzzwords and jargon than actual 70’s era culture aesthetics. Like, a lot of the lingo felt forced.
Slap Stick it to the Man?: Some of this shit was cartoonish. Forgive the language, but thank goodness for Spike Lee adding some historical context to, what seems like, something that was already put together that needed it so badly as not to come off as tone deaf, or unrealistic. This is especially clear in the final scenes of the film and how a lot of loose ends are conveniently tied.