Chi-raq: Film Review

chiraq

With issues such as gun control and Black Lives Matter permanently in the conversation nowadays, it is a no brainer Spike Lee wanted to make a film highlighting them. I fully support what he’s done with Chi-raq and appreciate his intentions, I just didn’t love how the story was told.

The plot is inspired by the classical Greek comedy Lysistrata, and the name is given to the lead character in the movie, played by Teyonah Parris. She is the girlfriend of Chi-raq (Nick Cannon), a rapper and the leader of the Spartans. Their rival gang, the Trojans, is lead by Cyclops (Wesley Snipes) and during one shootout; the young daughter of Irene (Jennifer Hudson) is hit by a stray bullet and killed. Lysistrata calls on all the females she knows, including the rivals, and they go on a sex strike until the gang war can be stopped.

The tone is very odd cos in one moment it can be presenting a really serious message about gun-related deaths and race issues and the next showing us a weird, ridiculous gag. Tonally, it was all over the place so it just didn’t work. There are still genius scenes and the performances are great but I just felt like Lee was unsure what he wanted it to be. It’s intended as a satire and that is obvious in some areas but not in many others.

Parris was the perfect casting choice for Lysistrata and I will pay attention to whatever she does next. She commands the screen and is strong, feisty and totally gorgeous. I also thought Angela Bassett kept the film grounded in reality, as did Hudson, who was very convincing as a grieving mother. On the surreal end of the scale is Samuel L. Jackson as the narrator, who breaks the fourth wall and tells the story in rhyme while wearing amazing, vibrant dandy clothes and using a cane, and John Cusack as a very over-enthusiastic religious leader. I wanted to laugh at him every time even though he was given some of the most powerful and politically relevant lines.

It’s also not a musical in the sense I was expecting – there are no songs or proper singing, the lines are just very lyrical and rhyme often. I was so impressed with the cast for nailing the rhythm of the dialogue.

I appreciate what Lee was trying to achieve. Chi-raq has an important message which needed to be told to highlight the injustices in the world today. These are issues that need to be talked about so I’m glad it exists. He tried to tell it in a digestible way but it just weakened it and I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to.

In cinemas Friday 2nd December 

 

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