Auteurs reach a certain point in their career, usually a decade after they have had any serious award contention, where each film is treated as a comeback, a return to form. But what if the director never lost their form - it's just they find their voice became relevant again? Though guilty of the occasional ill-advised slip into mainstream misfires (his excruciating Oldboy is the finest advert possible for the South Korean original), Spike Lee has never lost his ability to create fascinating, furious films. In recent years he has given us the intriguing Red Hook Summer and the fantastic Chi-Raq (which everyone really must seek out). So don't call BlacKkKlansman a comeback. Instead call it a masterpiece.
Based on a true story, BlacKkKlansman has an outrageously good setup. Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer, successfully infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan, and with the help of a white Jewish colleague, he begins an investigation to take down these white nationalists once and for all. From here Lee's film dovetails into an exploration of both the bubbling racism that has seemingly been given acceptability by the current resident of 1600 Penn, and the dilemma African-Americans face: how does one integrate in an imperfect society whose foundations are built on your oppression? It gives added weight to a film that could merely have been a marvellous romp.
In an accomplished ensemble, two performances stand out. John David Washington in the lead role is electric, deftly handling the film's more comedic moments as well as the dramatic ones. He is ably supported by Adam Driver, who subtly shapes the debate within his character about the degree to which he is part of the fight against the Klan. At this stage it would almost be noteworthy if Driver wasn't brilliant in a film, so consistent has the actor been in recent years. The film particularly benefits from a palpable chemistry between Washington and Driver, and I would gladly watch more films of them solving crime together. A special mention should go to Topher Grace, who makes David Duke as repellent and pathetic a character as you'd expect, and has a fair share of the film's biggest laughs.
And it has to be said that, for the most part, BlacKkKlansman is a comedy, an uproarious, hilarious, often uncomfortable one. But maybe it is the impact of producer Jordan Peele, who wrote and directed last year's Get Out, that the film feels as if it has more poignancy, more kick. The film suffers from a middle that feels baggy and overlong, but benefits from an ending that first morphs the film into an effective thriller before ending on a note of real-life tragedy that sucks all the air out of the cinema. As much fun as it is, what makes this film brilliant is that it has a point that is effectively and devastatingly presented.
I can't recommend BlacKkKlansman enough. It is one of the year's best, a fascinating, uncomfortable, hilarious exploration of race in