Overlooked Film of the Week- #103
I want to say upfront that I am not the biggest fan of Spike Lee. Not so much I am not a fan of his movies, but just the person he is. I find that most of the time, Spike Lee grinds an ax simply to grind an ax. When he accused Clint Eastwood of not representing African Americans who served during World War II in Eastwood's "Flags of our Fathers," it made my stomach hurt. Especially since there are African American soldiers in that movie. But the thing is, Eastwood's movie was about a very specific mission that didn't involve African Americans. I have already discussed the whole #OscarsSoWhite debate, and frankly I am tired to hearing and writing about it. It seems more often than not, Lee makes himself look like an idiot instead of looking insightful.
With all of that said, when Spike Lee connects with a piece of material, the result can feel like a shotgun blast to the heart. I think Spike Lee is a smart man and he can make a good movie, but his character gets the best of him sometimes. As a movie lover, I have to give credit when credit is due, and I love "Malcolm X," "Do The Right Thing," "25th Hour" and now "Chi-raq." "Chi-raq" is a Lee experiment that doesn't shatter the test tubes. "Chi-raq" maybe a satire, but it sheds light on very relevant issues in a urgent and powerful manner. Its filled to the brim with profound performances, and while I thought Idris Elba was the only black actor who truly got snubbed at the Oscars this year, I got to give credit to Teyonah Parris, who does overly-incredible work in this movie. She definitely could have been nominated for an Oscar this year, but more on that later.
"Chi-raq" sucks you in immediately. At first, I thought this was going to be another one of Lee's films where he forces his social misgivings and views down our throat, I was prepared for him to tell me just how horrible the white race is, but that's not really on his mind in this movie. The film's opening feels like adult episode of "Sesame Street," a miniature music video of sorts. Its a rap song with the lyrics filling the screen, discussing how violent it is to live in Chicago. Its a strong way to open a movie, and I was pretty much on-board from that point forward.
We are soon introduced to Demetrius "Chi-raq" Dupree (Nick Cannon), a rapper who has created his own gang in the city of Chicago. He opposed by Cyclops (Wesley Snipes) who runs a rival gang in the city. There is a shooting at one of Demetrius' performances, which leaves the rapper very angry. He didn't die though, and he goes home to his girlfriend Lysistrada (Parris) to relax from his near-death experience. Cyclops goes to Demetrius' house to try and kill him again. But they don't kill him, they kill a little boy caught in the crossfire. When Lysistrada sees the mother of the child cleaning his blood off the street, she has had enough of all the violence in her city. But what can she do to make a difference? What can she do in order to stop the needless bloodshed?
She rallies all the women in the city; women who support Demetrius, women who support Cyclops, all the women in the city. All the women make a pact to not have any type of sexual relations with their boyfriends or any man until the shootings and killings stop. The battle cry for this new movement is literally "no peace, no pussy," and the entire population of women become engulfed by it. "Chi-raq" is based on the story "Lysistrada" by Aristrophanes, which was about women withholding sex from their men for fighting wars. Its a clear contrast, but its just as clear that what happens in this movie is more than relevant today. Lee's film maybe a satire, but what Lee is arguing here makes perfect sense. In order to stop gun violence in this country, we are going to have to make a drastic change. Conservatives and liberals are going to have to come together and make the hard decisions, come up with some kind of compromise, because if it were working, there wouldn't be so much violence. I remember how shocking it was when Columbine happened in 1999. Today, shootings are so frequent that we have become numb to them. I am not saying take away guns, but we all have to come together to make a huge change. In this movie, that huge change was women coming together, taking away sex from their men.
The film is full of wonderful performances. I never knew Nick Cannon could be so good, but he sure is. The cast also includes Steve Harris, Jennifer Hudson, John Cusack, Angela Bassett, Harry Lennix, and Dave Chappel and they are all marvelous here. Samuel L. Jackson is our narrator throughout this movie, and its a career-high for him. I know that's weird to say for a guy who seems like he's in everything, but he really sticks out here, in a huge way. But no performance in this movie comes close to the work that Parris does. She is our eye into this world and Parris' performance serves as a profound guide into this macabre world. We feel every ounce of the pain she feels in this movie. We feel it when she begins her battle cry. Every move she makes is sound and realistic. In a world that is a clear fiction, its a great thing to pull off. I think Parris could have been nominated this year, and its a shame I was so late to the "Chi-raq" party.
"Chi-raq" is another example of why I urge people to always attempt to separate the art from the artist, because you never know when they will surprise you. Lee raises some very good points here and its tough to look at this movie and be stricken by the world we live in now. I may not respect the guy all the time, but when he makes a damn good movie, I can't take it away from him. This is something that is absolutely worth seeing.