Many things about Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street blew my mind. One major aspect was the thought that a dude in his 70s managed to make one of the most vibrant, energetic, visceral, decedent movies of all time. Whenever I watch a Danny Boyle movie, I can’t help but be impressed by the idea of a bespeckled Brit well into middle age making things that seem like such an epitome of cool. I have liked a few Spike Lee movies, loved one or two, been underwhelmed by more and I assumed his peak was long ago. But now, I think he might be hanging on to his own vibrancy as he ages, and he may even have another Do The Right Thing level masterpiece in him, I think he because I just watched Chi-Raq.
In present day Chicago, the murder rate and death toll massively outweigh anything America has experiencing on any of their recent international war fronts. One of the biggest conflicts is between rival gangs, the Spartans and the Trojans. Rapper Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon) leads the Spartans, while gangbanger Cyclops (Wesley Snipes) heads up the Spartans. After a shootout at one of Chi-Raq’s live shows, he tries to move past it by making time with his lady, Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris). But things are interrupted by a bit of the ol’ arson and drive by.
Fed up, Lysistrata comes up with a new plan for the women of Chicago to do what the man can’t, and put an end to the violence. Getting together with the wives, girlfriends and mistresses of the rival Trojans, she convinces them all to withhold sex from their men, until they reach a peace. Meanwhile, Irene (Jennifer Hudson) attends the funeral of her own young daughter, slain by a stray bullet. A funeral overseen by Father Miker Corriden (John Cusack), who takes the opportunity to vent his own frustrations about the gun violence in America, and the corrupt system that lets it happen.
Here’s the thing, I didn’t like Chi-Raq, I loved it. It’s not quite as good as Do The Right Thing (few movies are), but it makes me know that Spike Lee is still a really important voice in film making. The thing I think it may have got slightly wrong though, is that it kind of preaches to the choir.
I live in Australia, so thankfully, America’s bonkers gun laws don’t really affect me. But I still get really angry whenever I read about another US mass shooting. My concern with Chi-Raq is, the kind of American whack jobs who think they should be able to have guns, are the kind of American whack jobs who will think that this movie proves their point, that only a certain portion of America shouldn’t have guns. A certain portion that has been forced into their current situation by narrow minded, white whack jobs who think guns are a God given right.
Based on a 2,000 year old Greek play, and told in mostly rhyming couplets, Spike Lee manages to pull off a very tricky and very impressive balance between real life, raw issues, and over the top, melodramatic allegory. And you know what, over the top, melodramatic allegory is something he does really well. The more over the top and cartoony Lee goes, the scarier it makes the fact that the real life situation is even more ludicrous than this.
One last thing, I have to mention Samuel L Jackson. He didn’t come up in my synopsis because his character doesn’t really drive the story in any way. He’s a narrator, speaking directly to camera, almost acting like a Greek chorus. Which leads to scene after scene of Jackson doing his big speech, bombastic monologue thing, and he’s awesome. What a great few weeks to close out 2015 for this bloke. Between Chi-Raq and The Hateful Eight, the two directors who know how to use him best, both wrote quintessential Samuel L Jackson parts, and he totally sik his teeth into both.