First Hit: Fantastic film about race relations in the United States while reminding the audience about how far we have to go.
This film opens with a clip from the film Gone with the Wind, showing Scarlett walking through hundreds of dead and injured bodies from the Civil War. Then after a horribly racist rant film clip of Dr. Kennebrew Beaureguard (Alex Baldwin) setting the stage for the depth of white racism, this story begins.
We then move to the late 1970’s and Spike Lee captures the feeling, look, and sounds of the time. Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is looking to find work and sees a billboard advertising about being a cop in Colorado Springs. He’s got the perfect afro and in the interview he's told he'll be the first black cop on the police force - the Jackie Robinson of their force.
Stuck in the records room, he gets on a detail to monitor a black power meeting put together by Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier). The star of the meeting is Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins), now named Kwame Ture, who gives an amazing talk about ending racism in America and embracing black power. Engaging Patrice after the meeting, Ron was both awe struck by Patrice's commitment to the movement along with being smitten by Patrice the beautiful woman.
After this initial work as a detective, he ends up convincing the chief that he could infiltrate the local KKK chapter. Of course, everyone on the force laughs until, on the phone, he gets an interview with the local leader Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold). When Walter asks to meet him in person, Ron elicits the assistance of white Detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver).
Together they make an amazing team as they navigate the process of being Ron Stallworth, Klansman nominee.
To move his official membership along, Ron calls David Duke (Topher Grace) to ask him if he could get his staff to hurry the membership along. David says he’d be happy to help and that he’ll come to Colorado Springs for Ron’s induction into the KKK. All during this time Ron is dating Patrice and Flip is pretending to be Ron during one on one meetings with the KKK.
These components plus a possible bombing and cross-burning, the story about Ron, Flip, Patrice, Walter, David, and Felix (Jasper Paakkonen) as Walter’s radical right-hand man, the story became wildly engaging.
As the film unfolds, Spike Lee does an excellent job of giving the audience, scenes that run the gambit from humor (Ron calling David for the last time), to intenseness (Flip being pulled into Felix’s basement because Felix thinks Flip is a Jew), to today’s racist displays (when the end of the film easily segues into the 2017 Charlottesville march). Then, watching Harry Belafonte as civil rights leader Jerome Turner, I was transported to how real this story was.
The brilliance of Ron and Patrice moving down the hall almost surrealistically and comically as they watched a cross burning through a window was inspired.
Washington was absolutely wonderful as Ron Stallworth. He perfectly captured the struggle of a black man believing in the law and the black power movement. Harrier was divine as the President of the local black caucus. She definitely looked the part as a radical black woman and I couldn’t help but think about Angela Davis each time she was on the screen. Driver was amazing as Ron’s white counterpart. He embraced the role of Ron perfectly. Eggold was very strong as the local KKK leader. Grace was credibly incredible as David Duke. Paakkonen as the wildly unpredictable member of the local KKK was sublime. Belafonte was beautiful speaking his truth through his character. Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee wrote an engaging power script from Ron Stallworth’s book. Lee showed me again, why you can never count him out from making a powerfully amazing film.
Overall: This is the second film I’ve seen this year that is Oscar worthy.