Truth really is stranger than fiction. Based on author Ron Stallworth’s biographical book, Spike Lee’s latest film follows the police infiltration of the KKK in Colorado in the 1970s. The kicker: the infiltration is initiated by an African-American cop. After approaching the Klan over the phone and winning their trust during follow-up phone calls, he’s partnered with a white cop to appear in his place for Klan meetings as they continue to gather intel. It’s a high-wire game as they try to avoid detection by the Klan while simultaneously working to prevent any wrongdoing by their new acquaintances.
The cast is headlined by star John David Washington, a welcome arrival as a lead on the big screen, building on his continuing work as one of the best parts of The Rock’s HBO series, Ballers. Interestingly, John David is the son of Denzel Washington, keeping the tradition of starring in Spike Lee films in the family. This isn’t even his first work with Lee, as his first credited role was as an elementary school student in Denzel and Lee’s Malcolm X, a full 23 years before his emergence as a professional screen actor in Ballers. He’s more than up to the task here, delivering a solid take on the protagonist of this wild tale. He’s also aided by Adam Driver as his police partner and public face for Klan appearances, as well as Topher Grace as notorious KKK leader David Duke.
Lee shows welcome maturity and restraint in providing a mostly straightforward presentation of the story, really only detouring into his classic Spike-isms by adding lengthy but unnecessary speeches by Corey Walker as Kwame Ture and the amazing Harry Belafonte as an elder with first-hand horror stories about the Klan. Lee makes his presence felt the most in the Ture speech, framing the enraptured student audience members as individual, dramatically-lit portrait headshots for an extended amount of time. He also hits us over the head with how little has changed since the era portrayed in the film by closing it with actual footage of last year’s racially charged Charlottesville protests and the intentional car crash that resulted in the death of a demonstrator. Apart from those distractions, the project as a whole feels like Lee’s most substantial and worthwhile feature film work since the 1990s, a heady mix of the historical biography format of Malcolm X crossed with the visceral racial conflict of Do The Right Thing.
The Blu-ray has some surprising audio choices, led by the primary Dolby Atmos track in place of the customary DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio option. The movie doesn’t make much use of atmospheric surround, so it’s not really necessary but still a welcome indication that the studio is serious about sound presentation for this home release. There’s also a full 2.0 Descriptive Video Service track for the vision-impaired, as well as an above-standard Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 French track and more common Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 option.
The primary bonus feature is a substantial and worthwhile discussion with Stallworth, producer Jordan Peele, and the cast about working with Lee. The Blu-ray also includes an extended trailer featuring Prince’s latest posthumous song release (also played over the end credits), “Mary Don’t You Weep”. No DVD is included, but the digital copy is enabled for Movies Anywhere sharing between your favorite digital retailer accounts.