The modern telling of the Ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, set against the violence from the gangs in Chicago. Spike Lee and an all-star cast deliver one of the most thought-provoking and yet utterly frustrating films of the year.
When ever you want to see a snapshot of the lives of African-Americans in America you get Spike Lee coming along with a film that offers blatant honesty and creativity. Chi-Raq is a film that attacks your thoughts and challenges you to think about the real situation of the Gang Violence in America, in particular Chicago. Two rival gangs, the Spartans and the Titans are in a tit for tat battle that is spilling over onto the streets and taking more innocent lives than gang members. Finally the Girlfriends of both gangs decide to withhold sex from their boyfriends until a peace is settled. This soon spreads from the gangs of Chicago to around the world.
You sit in a cinema and the film starts, a song begins that hits you with a wall of sound, the stats start and the film blasts you into the story quickly. Told in rhyme and with Sam L Jackson popping up from time to time with a quick explanation of the situation this has to be the most annoyingly good film that I’ve seen this year. The reason is this. One moment in the film you are invested in the seriousness of the situation that is presented to you, the violence and ignorance of the characters that reflect a real situation. The reaction to a child getting murdered in the crossfire, and the movement that the Girlfriends begin that should quickly resolve the futile violence. Then the film descends into farce, and not the good kind, which jolts you out of the film and leaves you unsteady and leaves your mind unwilling to go back in. We are then thrown back into the serious situation again that your mind wants to be there, but then you don’t trust you’ll be there for long, and guess what? You’re not!
I’ve loved a lot of Spike Lee movies over my film watching life and this is probably the worst of the bunch. With a few changes Chi-Raq could be truly amazing. Removing the scene where the suddenly militant Girlfriends take over the armoury would be a start, it’s not needed and too farcical for this film. We know the story that Mr. Lee is trying to tell but there are a few scenes that just exploit our love of his films to the ninth degree.
The cast, which is led by the amazing Teyonah Parris, all do their jobs well enough. John Cusack stars as a Priest who is tired of violence and delivers a sermon at a funeral that is beautifully written and yet feels as though it from another film. Wesley Snipes stars as one of the gang members and I don’t know what they did to him during his prison years but they seemed to have dragged the acting out of him. Nick Cannon plays Chi-Raq and this guy has some acting chops that need to be developed more than presenting some talent show.
The importance of getting the stories of gang violence to our screens and the innocents that get left in turmoil when the violence spills over onto the streets should not be taken lightly. I don’t think that Mr. Lee does take them lightly either, I just think that he thought he was giving us a more complete story, but sadly the film is over long and the comical elements of the film draw us out of the nature of the truth. Fingers crossed that people still go to this film, forgive the problems, and wake up to the pointless violence that is terrorizing our lives. In every country there are gangs of different sizes and beliefs that change our society from peace and love to harm and hopelessness. Keep being on the side of peace.
Director: Spike Lee
Writers: Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee, Aristophanes
Stars: Nick Cannon, Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes