I like to believe that Spike Lee is one of the most important directors of our time but he has made some uneasy choices of late (notably Oldboy but we dare not breathe it’s name.) Sure enough, throughout the early nineties, Lee depicted many emotional veins that burnt with racial tension that rampaged in New York City. He astutely gave colour to a generally white Hollywood and wasn’t afraid to speak out about it. His work such as Do The Right Thing or Jungle Fever (plus many more) reached high acclaim from audiences and critics alike.
Though he slipped recently, he is back on form with the original mixture of the lyrical, the satirical, the visceral, and the sexual.
Pulling the story from Greek play Lysistrata, Chi-Raq tackles escalating gun violence in the city of Chicago and the impact it has on it’s communities. When a young girl is murdered due to the warfare between the Trojans and the Greek, the act send shockwaves through the women who have lost too many people due to guns. Lysistrata leads a protest; women will not have sex with their partners until they declare peace. With tensions already mounting, and the strike unifiying women on both sides of the battle, can the men see sense before they break?
Chi-Raq is one of those movies of this year that really muddles in your brain. Despite it’s undoubted critical acclaim, there has already been a great divide in public favour. Between the rhymes that slip off the character’s tongue in regular speech, the dance sequences, and regular fourth-wall breaking moments, the fervent disarray of tone can discombobulate. For fans of crazed cult films, and tonal subjective films, the batty execution of Chi-Raq may be one of it’s feverishly enjoyable moments.
Within it’s core themes, Chi-Raq finds a place. Looking at the film with a feminist eye, the movie does teeter between treating the women as objects, particularly at the beginning. But the intellectual side of the movie unravels to showcase the agency and female power that women have, even when they can flirt and be sexual. This aspect of women holding back sex, based on a classic Greek play, is interesting to delve into and shows how men can be uphold for different elements of violence they rampage upon this earth. There’s also a similar theme with gun and gang culture in inner-cities and not only portrays them unwaveringly, it weaves equally the reasons and the consequences of shooting a bullet without thought, just anger, prejudice, and rage.
Thought nugget: The best combination of these two themes is when Lysistrata decides to infiltrate a racist general’s home but swindles him because of his hidden desires. It’s interesting to muse upon, this desire he’s locked up in hate..
Performances are fantastic. In particular highlight are Jennifer Hudson and Angela Bassett as two generations of greiving mother. But Teyonah Parris (Dear White People) as Lysistrata portrays a superb, head-strong, emotive character who is a being capable of different facets and flows through them in greatness. Lysistrata is a leader, a partner, sensitive, and a woman – it’s a fantastic combination. Plus, Samuel L. Jackson is a colourful (in crazy attire) narrator linking parts of the epic together. If that doesn’t sell you the film, then I don’t know what will.
Towards the end of the film, the premise and the narrative does seemingly fall into lunacy and I still haven’t entirely decided whether I liked the direction or not. Regardless, you cannot deny that Chi-Raq is a different movie comparatively to the garb we’ve had of 2016, with an insasitable soundtrack to boot. Funny when it is supposed to be whilst poignant and upsetting when it wants to be, Lee’s work is an angry and rage filled attack on gang and gun culture as it charms you with rhymic dialogue and comedy. Satire at it’s finest, there is absolutely no movie like Chi-Raq that leaves it’s wounds long after watching.
A thoughtful yet fun experiment into violent cultures and relationships that has a powerful message, Lee storms back with an inventive movie.
Chi-Raq is available to watch on Amazon Prime!