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film Review: Spike Lee’s ‘BlacKkKlansman’ Journeys Into White America’s Heart of Darkness

BlacKkKlansman is a furious, funny, blunt and brilliant confrontation with the truth. It’s an alarm clock ringing in the midst of a historical nightmare, and also a symphony, the rare piece of political popular art that works in all three dimensions.

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Adam Driver and John David Washington in BlacKkKlansman., David Lee, Focus Features

In the middle of “BlacKkKlansman,” Spike Lee’s new joint — his best nondocumentary feature in more than a decade and one of his greatest — Ron Stallworth and his sergeant have an argument about the future of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s the early 1970s, and Ron (John David Washington), the first African-American officer hired by the Colorado Springs Police Department, has infiltrated the local Klan chapter and chatted on the phone with David Duke (Topher Grace), the organization’s national director.

That title sounds more respectable than the traditional grand wizard, and Sergeant Trapp (Ken Garito), who supervises the department’s undercover unit, insists that the smooth-talking, telegenic Duke has his sights set on the political mainstream. Duke and his allies are developing an electoral strategy based on potent, divisive issues like immigration, affirmative action and tax reform that could eventually lead to the White House. Ron laughs. The guys he is tracking are potentially dangerous, but also patently ridiculous. “America would never elect somebody like David Duke president,” he says. The sergeant asks, “Why don’t you wake up?”