By John H. Foote
Released in the summer to dazzling reviews, this outstanding film marked a triumphant comeback of sorts for iconic director-writer Spike Lee. After dominating the late eighties and nineties, Lee faded from public view, directing some brilliant documentaries in the 2000’s before taking the helm of this biographical crime film.
Ron Stallworth was a black detective in Colorado Springs in the seventies when he infiltrated the upper echelon of the Ku Klux Klan. The detective got so far as to speak with and strike up a long distance friendship with David Duke, Grand Wizard of the notorious group.
The film is populated with great performances, best among them Topher Grace as the intelligent Duke. Denzel Washington’s son, John David Washington, gives a solid, unshowy performance as Stallworth and Adam Driver, the most gifted of the new breed of actors, is outstanding as the white cop who must pretend he is Stallworth. Acting in the film’s of Spike Lee has never been an issue, with Denzel Washington doing some of his best work for the filmmaker. Seeing the younger Washington in the film, watching him evolve as an actor is thrilling. Though many felt Washington deserved an Oscar nomination, he will have other chances.
Lee takes a very matter-of-fact approach to the narrative, content with just telling the story because he knows the story is topical, fantastic, almost too fantastical to be true…but it is. Merging humour with intense drama, Lee crafts one of the year’s very best, and consistently surprising films.
Lee was awarded with an Honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement two years ago, and picked up his first nomination for Best Director for the film. The film is without question a contender for the top prizes, and Lee must be considered a very real threat for Best Director.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.