Adapting Greek comedy to the bloody streets of Chicago, Spike Lee has reignited a flame that burns as brightly as ever. Back on top of his game, Lee brings us Chi-Raq, a satirical tale of gang war, sex and the power of both. Frustrated and infuriated at the innocent lives being taken amidst the raging rivalry of two local ‘organisations’, the women of the neighbourhood join together denying their men the fruits of passion until a peaceful agreement between each side is reached. This goes for all the male residents, not just those engulfed in the violence. Before long, the female movement have overthrown and conquered a local army barracks, inspiring similar movements across the globe and throwing everything else into chaos. We’re welcomed along for the ride by the story’s well-dressed narrator – it would make no sense if this was anyone other than Samuel L. Jackson – as impeccable as the numerous vibrant suits he adorns. A stellar cast make up the complex characters of Chi-Raq. Jackson is joined by other veterans of the craft such as Angela Bassett who gives a staggering performance that rivals the numerous other triumphant portrayals peppered throughout. It’s heavenly to watch both actors and the infamous director collaborate – all of them wise and graceful in the second half of their careers. The film’s maturer performances are complemented by the younger cast members. It’s a delight to see Jennifer Hudson back on screen in a role worthy of her vast emotional cinematic capacity. John Cusack is equal parts bizarre and brilliant in the role of the neighbourhood’s valiant, devoted priest, angered by the loss and waste of life he sees devouring his community.
Even with a tidal wave of astounding turns from such a collection of talents, there is no denying that Chi-Raq belongs to Teyonah Parris. The relative new-comer who caught our eye in the smart and witty Dear White People is given the freedom to dominate a film almost as fierce as her. Dating one of the gang’s leaders, she sparks the sexual protest. She’s the film’s beating heart – it’s goddess and queen. Chi-Raq is atrociously sexy and a true celebration of raw female sexuality in all its glory. With women at its heart and driving its narrative, this is how you celebrate women without objectifying them. Here women are consistently seen as sexual beings but meanwhile, they’re represented as so much more. Chi-Raq is rich in textures, layers and character. The film has its faults but surely, even if you don’t fall in love with Chi-Raq, it’s impossible not to respect and admire it. At times it grows a little too noisy and through its enthusiasm grows somewhat distracted. One of the films biggest sins is not knowing quite what to do with Wesley Snipes who has only recently returned to our screens following two years in jail for tax evasion. Snipe’s character is absurd but could have benefited from being more sinister. The film’s wit and hilarity contrasts the film’s toughest moments in which the portrait of Michael Brown and mention of the sinister death of Sandra Bland bring us right back down to earth. Sexually and politically ferocious, whilst consistently hilarious, Chi-Raq is a triumphant return to form for Spike Lee, leaving me as excited and energised as I was after my first viewing of Do the Right Thing.
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