Spike Lee is back with a passionate and energy-filled piece of political filmmaking

Film Review by Patrick Gamble | 28 Nov 2016
  • Chi-Raq
Film title: Chi-Raq
Director: Spike Lee
Starring: Nick Cannon, Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson, John Cusack, Jennifer Hudson, David Patrick Kelly, D.B. Sweeney, Dave Chappelle
Release date: 2 Dec
Certificate: 15

The number of gun-related deaths in the United States has become impossible to ignore. No more so than in Chicago, where the homicide count has now surpassed the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq. This damming statistic provides the context for Spike Lee's latest joint, a savage satire of the gang and gun violence that plagues America's Second City.

Chi-Raq sees Lee firing on all cylinders, combining outrage at the senseless loss of black lives with a degree of bravado that hits a near-operatic pitch. An adaptation of the play Lysistrata, Lee’s version transposes the action from ancient Greece to Chicago’s South Side, where women from opposite warring sides refuse their partners sex in their pursuit of peace.

Lee adopts the play’s iambic pentameter prose, but updates its rhythms to match the cadence of modern rap music. This stylish touch, combined with a title sequence indebted to the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard and a series of rousing soliloquys from Samuel L. Jackson, culminates in an invigorating piece of high-concept, political filmmaking that looks to unearth the roots of systemic 'black-on-black' violence.

So after the disappointment of his Oldboy remake, does Chi-Raq mark a return to peak form for Lee? Well, almost. His exuberance results in a frequently incoherent story, and the film’s reductive gender politics are somewhat problematic. Although the concept of women withholding sex from men provides ample opportunity to laugh at the ridiculous male egos on display, these women are defined purely by their appearance and it would have been nice if their bodies weren’t the only leverage they had.

Lee’s take on American gun violence can be accused of many things, but a lack of passion isn’t one of them. Regardless of whether or not his hyper-didactic style strikes a chord, there’s no denying this is powerful and timely filmmaking, fuelled by the fires of injustice and told with an intoxicating exuberance.

Released by Vertigo