Spike Lee delivers one of his best joints in years with the real-life inspired BlacKkKlansman, starring John David Washington and Adam Driver. The story of an African American undercover officer and a Jewish detective infiltrating the KKK in 1970s Colorado sounds like the stuff of a comedy, but this really happened albeit not necessarily as depicted in this film. While an examination of race relations, the film deftly balances the serious and dangerous overtones of the police officers' work with some pitch-perfect comedy. It's a hell of a ride and one absolutely worth taking. Universal Studios delivers BlacKkKlansman to Blu-ray in terrific order with a terrific image transfer and an effective Dolby Atmos mix to match. One of the best movies I've seen all year. Highly Recommended.
John David Washington (son of Denzel) is Ron Stallworth, Colorado Springs' first African American police officer. Hired to add diversity to the force and improve community outreach, Ron is unceremoniously assigned to records. That changes when a prominent member of the Black Panthers Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) speaks at a community event and the CSPD need an inside man to report on the event. Proving himself loyal - his chief (Robert John Burke), tasks him to Intelligence alongside fellow officers Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) and Jimmy Creek (Michael Buscemi) where he proceeds to do - nothing. When Ron spots an ad in the newspaper looking for a few good men to join the Ku Klux Klan, he couldn't resist giving them a call and leaving a message. When the Klan calls back, Ron, Flip, and Jimmy get caught up in infiltrating the Klan with Ron on the phone and Flip doing the in-person work. As their investigation develops, the situation becomes more serious as questions swirl about the real identity of Ron Stallworth.
The story of officer Ron Stallworth and the real-life unnamed man the Flip Zimmerman character was based on is one of those tall tales where if your friend told you that an African American man and a Jewish man became members of the KKK, talked to David Duke, and nearly became leaders of their local chapter, you'd tell him he was full of crap. But, real life is full of those funny little ironies and this story more or less actually happened. The film BlacKkKlansman may shift and truncate the timeframe a bit, but then few if any historically-based films are ever 100% accurate in that measure.
Spike Lee has always been one for finding interesting slices of life and making great movies in the process. With BlacKkKlansman he fully explores Ron as the first African American officer of a police force in a city not well known for celebrating diversity. We get to watch as Ron tries his best to be his best at all times - even in the face of grotesque racism from his fellow officers in blue. As his investigations into the Klan intensifies he's also caught in a relationship with a young woman who grew up not trusting the police and knows him only as a man who attended the Ture rally. It's in these moments that Washington shows he's got some of his father's natural talents for conveying a range of emotions. I've only ever seen a handful of episodes of Ballers, so John David Washington is still a relatively new talent to me, but he's already one I'm looking forward to seeing a lot more. All the while, Spike Lee finds the deft balance been serious and terrifying and an almost playful satirical sense of humor. While the humor never feels forced, it's a welcome respite considering the ground this film is covering.
After some of Lee's recent offerings, I'd begun to fear that the filmmaker's best years may be behind him. With BlacKkKlansman he managed to put those fears to rest giving the film an energy, life, and a sense of timelines I haven't felt from one of his movies since 25th Hour. Outside of some of his documentaries, most of his feature films have been unfortunate misfires with Old Boy among the worst offenders. Chi-Raq had an interesting idea behind it and was well-intentioned, but again I personally feel it missed its mark. BlacKkKlansman always felt on point. It never overstepped itself nor did it play things too silly. It offered up a well-executed message and reminder of where things are at from a director famous for having a lot to say while proving to be intensely entertaining.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
BlacKkKlansman arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Universal Studios in a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital set. Housed in a sturdy two-disc case with identical slipcover artwork, the disc loads directly to trailers for other upcoming Universal releases before arriving at a static image main menu with traditional navigation options. The included Digital Copy is Movies Anywhere compatible.
It's times like this when you really appreciate filmmakers who still shoot on film and finish their films at a 4K DI. Such is the case with Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman. After shooting his last couple features and docs on digital, Lee returned to 35mm and 16mm and this 1080p 2.40:1 transfer is beautiful. It captures the fine details while maintaining a purposefully hazy look to heighten the period look and feel. Colors have strong primaries with reds and blues getting plenty of pop while the overall color tone of the film pushes the golden yellows nicely. Flesh tones are accurate and healthy across the board. Film grain is apparent and well resolved without becoming too thick. Some of the 16mm segments are a bit more pronounced than others, but nothing too distracting. Black levels are pretty strong, although there were a few sequences where they could appear a lighter grey/black and hazier than others, those are only brief shots and not a serious issue. Contrasts can also get a little sharp with whites and bright windows, in particular, edging towards blooming. Again small pea stuff that really isn't a problem, just something worth cataloging. Otherwise, this is a damn near flawless 1080p transfer.
I love a Dolby Atmos mix that doesn't always have to be all show and pizzaz. The Atmos mix afforded BlacKkKlansman is a pristine example of how a film -- one that isn't loaded with explosions, spaceships, or gunfire -- can benefit from an object-based audio mix. There is a rich range of active subtleties throughout the mix that keeps it lively, engaging, with near constant surround activity that doesn't call attention to itself or feel like a gimmick. The mix maintains a lifelike atmosphere throughout with a great sense of space. The movie can shift from the tight and confined CSPD offices and then open up beautifully to the rally hall filled with hundreds of cheering voices complete with a range of sound effects and a moody score and still maintain element fidelity. Key effects like telephone rings are given extra punch and give you a nice little comical/suspenseful jump depending on the scene in question. Dialogue is crystal clear throughout without any issues. Even during the busiest of scenes like the nightclub sequence where there are a bunch of background effects, the dialogue keeps to the front/center channels and never falters. Toss in another effective and occasionally ominous score by Terence Blanchard and it's a solid mix. My only teeny-tiny complaint was that it felt like I had to pop my levels up a notch or two above normal, but that's it. Otherwise, this is an effective, active, and immersive audio mix.
I get it that studios aren't really keen on producing in-depth bonus features these days but Universal could have made an effort. There is so much history and ground to cover between the film itself and the real-life events that some sort of genuine featurette would have been great. As it is, there really is only one actual EPK bonus feature accompanied by an extended trailer played to Mary Don't You Weep by Prince.
A Spike Lee Joint (HD 5:09)
Extended Trailer (HD 4:29)
BlacKkKlansman is a timely film in more ways than one. As an examination of our country's race relations history, it's relevant and offers a look at an important case set within small local law enforcement. On the other hand, it marks a grand return to form for Spike Lee whose best films I had feared were behind him. Equal parts funny and entertaining while dramatic and suspenseful, BlacKkKlansman was one of the best movies I've seen this year and I can't wait to give it another watch. Universal Studios delivers a terrific Blu-ray featuring a high-quality transfer and a terrific Dolby Atmos mix. Hopefully, a Special Edition is on the way because the bonus features are sadly inadequate. At the end of the day, despite the lacking bonus materials, this one is still Highly Recommended.