Sometimes subtle acting performances can elevate a film in its entirety.
BlacKkKlansmanhas becomeSpike Lee’s return to critical acclaim, coming in the form of his first Best Picture and Best Director nomination in his career. This well-received film is by no means a favorite to take home best picture, as the Netflix original Roma andMarvel’sBlack Panther are also challenging history, Lee’s BlackKkKlansmanis entirely deserving of this nomination.
Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thingwas nominated for an Academy Awardfor Best Original Screenplay, but disappointed fans when it did not receive higher profile nominations such as Best Picture and Best Director.
Spike Lee has a knack for emulating life in his art, even well after Do the Right Thing. BlacKkKlansmanhas a well contained story, which takes place in 1970’s Colorado, though it still proves relevant today given the polarized political climate of America.
In an Interview with Rolling Stone, Lee said this about his most recent film: “We were just trying to tell truth to power. You know? It had to be a period piece that also comments on what is happening today with this guy in the White House. The whole thing with [NFL players and] the anthem, building the wall, “Mexicans are rapists”… it’s just crazy. The Year of Living Dangerously, that’s where we are.”
At times, this Spike Lee joint feels like a smart buddy cop drama but it is quickly elevated by subtle performances. Adam Driver pushes the film forward at every turn, gaining him a nomination for Best Supporting Actorand was backed-up by two other mesmerizing performances.
John David Washington plays a rookie undercover detective trying to take down leader of the KKK David Duke, played by Topher Grace. These two’s greatest strength as actors is their unwavering charisma, and that is seen and truly heard in their over the phone interactions.
Throughout the film, Washington’s character Ron Stallworth needs his partner Flip Zimmerman, played by Driver, to be Ron Stallworth to attend Klan meetings.
The real Stallworth finds himself having a handful of over the phone conversations with none other than David Duke. The bafoonish arrogance of Duke combined with the swagger of Stallworth creates a palpable tension that is not only nerve-racking, but farcical and absurd as well. Each time these two speak on the phone, it’s equally hysterical as it is troubling.
Washington, son of legend Denzel Washington, has really come into his own as an actor over the past few years. His performance on HBO’s Ballers as loud mouth and hilarious Ricky Jerret has been nothing but consistent, and his relationship with Dwayne Johnson’s character is something special.
Topher Grace has come a long way from playing Eric Forman on That 70’s Show, but that childish arrogance and clueless sense of humor couldn’t be more perfect in his comic portrayal of KKK leader David Duke.
Adam Driver seemed like a sure thing as a best supporting actor nominee, but John David Washington and Topher Grace’s we’re well above stand out. Their performances were equally understated as they were outlandish and magnetic. Somehow, they made talking on the phone more fascinating than an actual attempt in taking down the KKK.