Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. USA, . , , , , , . Screenplay by , , , , based on the book by . Cinematography by . Produced by , Spike Lee, , , , . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by . Cannes Film Festival 2018. Golden Globe Awards 2018.
shows up at the office of the Colorado Springs police department, answering their request for new recruits and thrilled to join the force as its first black officer. The early, frustrating days being stuck behind the desk of the records department are hard to endure until he asks to be put on the undercover team. His first assignment is to attend a speech by Stokely Carmichael (now going by Kwame Ture) and report back on any seditious activity, but what he finds is a group of students who are passionate and principled but not dangerous, one of them a woman ( ) with whom he begins a romance. He is inspired to go in search of real trouble for his next assignment: reading a newspaper about Klan activity in the area, he nervily picks up the telephone, calls the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and pretends to be interested in joining. Showing up to fulfill his membership is obviously not an option, so Washington sends fellow undercover officer to do the work in person while our protagonist handles communication over the phone, eventually finding himself on the line with Grand Wizard David Duke ( ) himself. Spike Lee’s most exciting film in years is a remarkable thriller whose dramatic power is never undercut by the brittle layer of comedy he places over it to address the bizarre nature of the story (and, quite frankly, the ridiculous nature of white supremacist beliefs in general); truth is stranger than fiction, and it’s hard to know if a story about a black man going undercover with the KKK (and, at one point, working as personal bodyguard for Duke), even when made by someone with as vibrantly rebellious a sense of narrative as Lee has, could be believed if it weren’t based on fact (and, specifically, on Ron Stallworth’s book about his experience in this case). Lee has frequently accompanied his features with documentary footage as context, and he matches the power of his previous examples of this (Malcolm X and Bamboozled come immediately to mind) with excerpts from Hollywood past (Gone With The Wind, an example of romanticizing the Confederacy, and some well-deserved shots at D.W. Griffith’s distortion of history in the industry game-changing The Birth of A Nation) and our disturbing present (the horrors of Charlottesville as a way of placing the film’s events in a comprehensive timeline). The story as dramatized would be mesmerizing enough not to need the file footage as context, but Lee has a talent for never talking down to his audience, and the additions make the entire experience feel abundant and complete.