REVIEW: Chi-Raq

11 12 2015

Chi-RaqSubtlety has never been a strength of Spike Lee’s, and his latest film “Chi-Raq” is all the better for him not even attempting. From its opening scene, where big red letters and a booming voice declare “THIS IS AN EMERGENCY,” we know exactly how he feels about his chosen subject – the epidemic of gun violence in urban Chicago. Removing any guesswork just makes the political commentary come through all the more clearly.

Lee reworks the Greek comedy of “Lysistrata” into the modern day. Now, the women are not on a sex strike to end a war; they are withholding their carnal secrets to stop the carnage on their streets. Admirably, he tries to keep the sounds of verse in tact from Aristophanes’ plays, though they often times strain or falter altogether. Many times, a line will pierce with its accuracy. But at others, the exaggeration and hyperbole becomes unintentionally comical.

Though Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) and the movement she leads are undeniably the primary focus of “Chi-Raq,” Lee also has other balls in play. Chiefly, he follows a grieving mother, Jennifer Hudson’s Irene, who seeks justice after her young daughter was shot down in the streets by an unknown gunman. These segments have nothing outlandish or overblown about them. Hudson brings genuine, moving pathos to her character’s struggle (perhaps informed by what happened in her own life).

The inclusion of both stories might serve as a testament to the urgency Lee feels in getting people angry about this issue. Heck, the film shot over the summer and includes reference to the Emanuel AME shooting in Charleston and the Cecil the Lion kerfuffle – meaning he got it out of the editing bay in just months. Viewers would likely find one character more interesting and identifiable, meaning Lee could maximize his reach with a single film. Yet as a result, “Chi-Raq” feels wildly uneven … and that’s not even mentioning the musical numbers that constantly disrupt any narrative momentum.

Nonetheless, it’s encouraging to see Lee legitimately up in arms about something once again. His recent work, disciplined thought it might have been, has felt somewhat passionless. In “Chi-Raq,” he’s mad as hell and very much alive in letting us know. He provides, with rather blunt didacticism, solutions to Chicago’s bloodshed from both without and from within. And he even seems hopeful that a change is going to come, which might be the most shocking turn of the entire movie. B2halfstars

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One response

13 12 2015
Ricardo

Boy, would I have loved to read Roger Ebert’s comments on this one.

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