Adam Driver and John David Washington in a scene from the movie BlacKkKLansman. Supplied by Universal Pictures.
Adam Driver and John David Washington in a scene from the movie BlacKkKLansman. Supplied by Universal Pictures. David Lee

Under their skins: how one man exposed Ku Klux Klan

It's a story that would be impossible, except it is true.

An African-American police officer manages to infiltrate and expose a local branch of the Ku Klux Klan.

BlacKkKlansman, director Spike Lee's latest 'joint' as he calls his films, brings the impressive story of Ron Stallworth to life with a few dramatic embellishments.

Set in the early 1970s, the provocative crime drama follows Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, pictured right), the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department.

Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the KKK.

Posing as a racist extremist, Stallworth contacts the group and soon finds himself invited into its inner circle.

He even cultivates a relationship with the Klan's Grand Wizard, David Duke (Topher Grace), who praises Ron's commitment to the advancement of white America. With the undercover investigation growing ever more complex, Stallworth's colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver, also pictured) poses as Ron in face-to-face meetings with members of the hate group, gaining insider's knowledge of a deadly plot.

Together, Stallworth and Zimmerman team up to take down the organisation, which aims to sanitise its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream.

Get Out director Jordan Peele brought Stallworth's memoir to Lee's attention and he and Get Out producer Jason Blum serve as co-producers on BlacKkKlansman, which has already been tipped as an Oscar contender.

Lee cast John David Washington, son of Oscar winner Denzel Washington, in the lead role without an audition. As a child, Washington had a small role in Lee's Malcolm X, which starred his father, but he didn't make his adult acting debut until landing a role in Dwayne Johnson's gridiron TV series Ballers.

"I told him I knew him before he was born. We're family,” Lee tells the San Francisco Chronicle.

Washington told CNN his gridiron career - he was signed by the St Louis Rams in 2006 and went on to play for the United Football League - helped to prepare him for his second career on the screen.

"The concept of team play truly gives you a chance to win or succeed in truth, telling like it did on the field,” he said. "Scheduling, your concentration, your discipline, all of that, to me, is a direct result of football and how I apply it to my work now.”

BlacKkKlansman ends with real-life footage of last year's Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. US President Donald Trump was criticised for his remarks on the event, which some interpreted as sympathetic to white supremacists.

Lee says his film is not directly aimed at the controversial leader, although he hopes he takes notice.

"I don't approach my films by saying who's the target. I use the word 'story' instead of 'target'. There has to be a story,” Lee tells the San Francisco Chronicle.

"Just the premise of this film is high concept. A black man infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan. That's all you've got to say. How many words is that?

"Eight words. Those eight words tell the entire story. You can't get more Hollywood than a movie that can be described in eight words. That's high, high, high concept.”

STARS: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Laura Harrier, Ryan Eggold, Corey Hawkins.

DIRECTOR: Spike Lee

RATING: MA 15+

REVIEWER'S LAST WORD: This button-pushing crime drama offers biting commentary on the current state of race relations in the US and is some of director Spike Lee's best work in decades.

BlacKkKlansman opens in cinemas on Thursday.


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