In the Dark: Spike Lee joint shows us lessons we haven't learned

In the Dark: Spike Lee joint shows us lessons we haven't learned

If not for recent events, which demonstrate that we still have far to go to repair racial relations in this country, Spike Lee’s new movie would be more like a history lesson — and it is, only it seems we’ve haven’t learned much of anything in the last 40 years.

Set during the turbulent ‘70s, the movie begins with a fictitious race baiter (Alec Baldwin) starring in a black and white movie touting white supremacy, but the story moves quickly to Colorado Springs where the police department is trying to integrate its ranks.

As the true story goes, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) steps up for the job.

Longing to do undercover work but relegated to the file room, Ron gets his chance when Kwame Turé formerly Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins) is speaking at the local college and Ron is to tape his speech (which, by the way, is riveting) and report back how the mostly black crowd reacted.

He accomplishes this and meets the local Colorado State Black Union president played by Patrice (Laura Harrier), the love interest in this feature, but the love story is given little play here.

This assignment leads to Ron answering an ad in the local paper for KKK members, and while he maintains the phone relationship and heads the operation, a fellow cop, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), takes over at the face-to-face meetings with the local Klansmen, led by a paranoid idiot named Felix (Jasper Paakkonen).

There is just something so richly ironic about a black man and a Jewish man sticking it to the local Klan chapter. And as the movie tells you, almost all of this wild story is true. Gifted with such a story, Spike Lee turns out what is probably his most mainstream movie in quite some time. It’s highly enjoyable, adapting an almost satirical mien to illustrate how ludicrous this all was, right up until the end when it takes a serious, life-threatening turn.

There is a balance to this and a really nice vintage feel that recalls some of the Blaxploitation movies of that era, of which there is a nice nod to in one scene. The music has the same vibe, and even the way Ron struts through the CS police building reminds me of Richard Roundtree in “Shaft.” Add the vintage clothing and Ron’s impressive ‘fro, and it’s the ‘70s all over again.

This undercover operation went so far, Ron actually did develop a phone friendship with Grand Wizard David Duke, played here by Topher Grace, playing Duke as an avuncular dimwit. Duke even agrees to come to Colorado Springs for Ron’s initiation into the local chapter, with Flip stepping in for the meet and greet.

In the end, Lee reminds us, through news footage of Charlottesville mostly, just how far we’ve not come in dealing with racial divide in this country. It’s sobering, and it should be, even after the laughs derived from watching a bunch of clownish Klansmen in what is probably now a defunct chapter of this loathsome organization.

Kudos to Spike Lee for this excellent recreation of an unbelievable story that is based on Stallworth’s own book. It strikes the right tone while remaining entertaining and delivers a subtle wake up call that, as in the words of Gandhi, we need to “be the change (we) wish to see in the world.”