Spike Lee’s BlacKKKlansman tells the true story of Ron Stallworth, the first black police officer hired in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Based on Stallworth’s memoir Black Klansman, the film follows the young upstart officer through the racial prejudices of the police department. When he is transferred to the undercover investigations department, Stallworth hatches a plan to infiltrate the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
The satire is the most fragile of all the genres. Drama fails or succeeds on the strength of very definite qualities like story, character, and pathos. Comedy has leeway with its execution on account of its casual tone, as even the blackest comedies have a jokey kernel. Strict genre fare or action is even more forgiving: as long as the film hits a few key points, we enjoy the parts that hit, and dismiss the parts that miss (i.e., the recent Mad Max, which is awesome yet fairly bereft of story). But with satire, if certain elements are missing – a unifying vision, a stylistic conceit, or even a single performance – then the product just feels off. So is the case with War Machine, the Netflix film from Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B Entertainment. Though the satirical aspirations of this send-up of the War on Terror are apparent and welcome, there are simply too many missteps.