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Raised in a traditional military family with strong values and a stronger sense of right, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington: Ballers) wanted to be a cop. Getting accepted as the first black officer in very white Colorado Springs was his first challenge.
His next was getting out of the records room. His third challenge is going undercover to report on a meeting organized by a local Black Student Union.
Inspired by what he learns at the meeting, Stallworth parlays himself into the police’s intelligence department. To prove his worth, he calls up the local head of the Ku Klux Klan and introduces himself as a fellow racist.
Oddly enough, it works.
By phone, the Klansmen like Ron fine. In person, he’s unlikely to go over quite so well. Put in charge of an investigation team, he appoints a white officer (Adam Driver: Star Wars: The Last Jedi) as his stand-in at Klan meetings.
Stallworth continues to build relationships and climb Klan ranks. Soon, he’s chatting with Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace: Delirium).
As he plumbs the depths of racism, he finds the police department as tainted as the city. Can he fix the system within the system?
BlacKkKlansman is frank, hilarious, deeply disturbing and true. Director Spike Lee (Pass Over) has made a career of leading audiences through uncomfortable conversations. He regularly takes on systemic racism, violence and cultural norms. Here he documents how racist Klan rhetoric continues in modern conversations. The Klan talks about keeping America great and immigration in ways that seem an eerie echo to the news of the day.
Lee takes a complex perspective on the police. His hero is a black man and a police officer. But Lee makes clear that the black community has reason to fear law enforcement. He opens room for debate as to whether the system can be changed from within, as Stallworth believes.
This political powerhouse entertains with visual poetry. We get a stirring montage on the strength and beauty of black Americans cut to the works of Kwame Ture. Lee adds documentary footage to illustrate the state of modern affairs in America. He also dissects Birth of a Nation, the early 20th century paean to the Klan.
Washington’s bravura performance brings humanity to the film. His Stallworth is the classic movie hero, clearly on the side of right. But this is a true story, which means all of his competence, charm and heart might not save the day.
Brash and full of ugly truths, this is the movie to see if you’re interested in making America great again.
Great Drama • R • 135 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
When Miles (Alex Neustaedter) hears scratching in the scrap yard, he doesn’t expect to find a military-grade robot dog trapped in a pile of rubble. After freeing the pooch, he learns it is part of a military experiment to protect soldiers in the field.
Bonded, the pair tries to evade the military’s quest to regain its property.
A mashup of Lassie and The Iron Giant, A.X.L. could be a charming movie about powerful interspecies bonds. Then again, it could be a con job to separate you from your money.
Prospects: Dim • PG • 100 mins.
The Happytime Murders
Puppets of a famous children’s television show live in a world of their own, until the puppet-cast are murdered one by one.
Cop Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) seeks the help of her old partner, a puppet cop turned private eye.
Don’t be fooled by the fuzzy puppets. This is not a movie for children. Brian Henson, son of Muppet creator Jim Henson, has followed a different road, creating a profane crass comedy full of childhood-ruining jokes.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 91 mins.
Framed for murder, Henri ‘Papillon’ Charrière (Charlie Hunnam) is condemned to the notorious Devil’s Island prison. Conditions are hideous, inmates are brutal and escape seems impossible. But Papillon doesn’t lose hope.
To survive he must escape. Befriending Louis Dega (Rami Malek), a counterfeiter who is rumored to be a millionaire, Papillon begins to plan.
A remake of the classic Steve McQueen film and an adaptation of a famed autobiography, Papillon is high drama about the viciousness and hope abiding in each person.
If you’re interested in great action and gruesome violence, you’ll likely get a kick out of this movie – but don’t expect originality or novelty.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 133 mins.