Jake Rosenberg’s review published on Letterboxd:
This was my first screening at the Oriental Theatre in Milwaukee. Definitely won't be my last.
Before seeing mother!, I remember reading everywhere that the last act of that film was pure insanity. And yet, nothing could've prepared me for what was in store. Similarly, everyone was praising the hell out of this, saying it was hilarious, well made, & a gut punch. And once again, nothing compares to seeing it for the real deal.
I've only seen Do The Right Thing, but Spike Lee has established himself as a reputable warrior for social justice who doesn't carry much subtlety. And yet, I dare to call this film, titled BlacKkKlansman, a Spike Lee joint...restrained? Patient? I'm shocked, but Lee takes a story that is definitively a message movie & subverts all expectations. This is one of the finest slow burns I've ever seen, & no, I don't think it runs too long. The craft is top notch & spectacular; if it isn't nominated for editing, I'm suing. Seriously, it's so rare to see a film where the editing shines through as an element that was taken careful care of, yet this film does it. And the cinematography...I asked a theatre employee afterwards if the screening was digital, which it was to my surprise. The 35mm captured here is astonishing. The symmetry of shots, use of color, angles, closeups, & distance/perspective from where they shoot are all perfect.
Really wish the ending hadn't been spoiled in practically every review. My only flaw is the abruptness of the ending & tonal shift it makes. It's really the second to last shot before credits that this turns into the Spike Lee anti-racist jerk-off I feared this would be (rest in power? Come on). Another nitpick was that I was confused as to the age of Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins). That said, this film did an excellent job of navigating tone; comedy & heavy tension switched off brilliantly. The climax was spectacular, the cast was phenomenal across the board, & the way they captured the era was sublime.
As a Jew, the trailers had me worried about how they would treat Adam Driver's character. It seemed like they were taking the attitude that Jews just don't care about injustice in the world, particularly the tension between blacks & whites, which is just wrong. Thankfully, the film gracefully handles this, saying that we don't truly realize how important something is to us until it's under attack. On another note, I'm so impressed that for what's essentially a buddy cop tale, there's no big moment where the clashing protagonists come together. It's all about subtlety in small moments throughout, such that by the end, this relationship is one of the most organic ever onscreen.
Where Lee really surprises is with his nuanced understanding of hatred. A critic I follow, Ben McDonald, said of Adam Driver's character's undercover work in his review, "His attempts to blend in are so ridiculously over the top, so overtly racist that one would think it would be easy for the real KKK members to see through his disguise. But alas, the stronger the slur the more they seem to like him..." That's because to say such horrible things isn't nothing. It doesn't matter if you're undercover, you're still putting thought into such vile words that come out of your mouth. Of course the Klan doesn't see right through him; to spout such vitriol is a commitment, and to them, anyone who will consent to saying the same would be crazy to speak these statements without meaning them. It's easier than you think to convince a racist that you too are racist; if you're going to unleash disgusting rhetoric, what reason have they not to believe you?
These days in this administration, it's very easy to get pessimistic. Don't get me wrong, I'm still angry, protesting, & will never give up, but it's easier & easier to get hopeless. Every time my naive younger brother shows me the latest news with dirt on Trump, I say, "What does it matter? This is nothing new; nothing will happen anyways. It's all pointless." But the way this film reminds you that our COMMANDER IN CHIEF is okay with the Klan & defends the violence in Charlottesville ignites a new fire within me altogether. I am angry & want change, & that's acknowledging that I have hope of achieving it.
Biggest surprise of the year so far. I knew I'd think it was great, but Oscar season has their work cut out for them.
EDIT: when I first saw this the day I watched it, it had a 5/5 & was my favorite of the year. Upon further reflection, more flaws came to mind & I had it at 4.5/5. In light of the fact that much of this film was fabricated in spite of being based on a true story, I currently have it at four stars, as I do find it a bit disappointing that this film hypes itself as being based on some “fo’ real fo’ real shit,” when in reality much of it is fiction to service an agenda. I agree with everything the film says politically, & acknowledge that artistic license can mean playing loose with facts, but there’s that & then there’s outright lying. Highly recommend looking at Boots Riley’s tweet on this subject for further details. Even so, this is still a great movie I highly recommend.