- Gareth Crook
This starts with footage from ‘Gone With The Wind’ and Alec Baldwin playing a racist propaganda peddler. It’s not integral to the story, but sets the tone and is bloody uncomfortable. John David Washington plays Ron Stallworth, a new recruit with the Colorado Springs police force. The magnificent afro puts us in the 70s. He’s the first and only black man in the department. The racism he faces is low key, subtle, petty and grates on Ron. He wants to do well though, bites his tongue, waits for an opportunity. That chance comes when the chief calls him into a room with Micheal Buscemi (bloody deadringer for his brother!) and Adam Driver on a special assignment. The job, to observe a Black Panthers-like meeting. Listening to Kwame Ture at said meeting is an awakening for Ron. It’s easy to see why, Corey Hawkins as Ture is electric. The room hangs on every word, but those words are also relayed to Flip Zimmerman (Driver) and Jimmy Creek (Buscemi) via Ron’s wire to the cop car outside. Inspiring inside, the words are potentially incendiary outside, if they weren’t disbelieved. Ron gets a transfer though for his efforts to the Intelligence Department, a somewhat amusing name in the circumstances, but he’s on the rise. It’s here he makes a fateful call, answering a newspaper ad placed by the KKK. He’s fishing and boy does he catch. Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold) returns his call and Ron’s telephone anonymity allows him to pretend to empathise with Walter’s hateful world view. He’s winging it, much to the amazement of his fellow cops, he’s onto something though and the impending investigation into what the KKK is up to is his. There’s a hitch of course, he can talk on the phone, but there’s no way Ron can walk into a room full of white hood wearing wankers. He needs a double and Flip steps up to the plate. Flip is Jewish, it seems kinda poetic, the Jew and the black fella stalking the good ol boys. The cast of good old boys seem on the money to the point of harrowing, even the slightly comical Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser). They’re all suitably vile and I’m always slightly trouble by actors playing these kinds of roles so well. It’s slick production, period details, even with the odd light moment, the plot is locked in as a real life story. It is based on true events, these are all real characters, but it wouldn’t matter either way, we all know the issues are real and still inexplicably plague America to this day. It’s this fact that powers this. It’s entertaining for sure, but sickening too. History class delivered in a palatable but concise manner for the masses. Driver is amazing. Everyone’s amazing really, even those playing the scumbags. The casting and performances are all on the nose. On the surface it could appear simple, Rednecks Vs. Cops. It’s not through, the cops aren’t devoid of racism surprise surprise and the KKK aren’t just anti-black. Throw in anti-gay, anti-Jew, anti- anything that doesn’t drive a truck, carry a gun and enjoy burning crosses. Ah yes, burning crosses. I don’t care how many films you’ve seen, with how many scenes of gore either real or fantasy, there’s nothing quite a terrifying as the sight of a burning cross. That’s the whole point though isn’t it. Scared and ignorant idiots, hiding behind a bunch of intimidating symbols and fucking stupid hooded costumes. What prat even designed such a stupid looking outfit? Before long both Ron and Flip (playing Ron) are making huge inroads into ‘The Organisation’, Ron’s befriending Klan Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace) and Flip is getting nominated for local leader. This infiltration is all well and good, but exposure to these sorts of levels of hate, makes the soul crave some justice. Whatever this film delivers, it’s not enough. It’s not without its flaws either. There’s a couple of pacing issues and some of the story arc feels a bit rushed. Minor gripes though, along with some of the music interludes that feel a little misplaced. I see what Spike Lee was going for, but these things make it feel a bit too derivative. It does have the expected finale and it is satisfying, but there’s no happy ending to this story is there. A real of archive footage hammers this home in case you’d not got the message. There’s no place in any society for such hatred of anyone, but sadly there’s still a need for these stories to be told. We all need to educate ourselves to be tolerant. Some much much MUCH more than others. Let’s hope for a future where such cinematic statements are no longer needed.