Directed by Spike Lee
Produced by Spike Lee
Written by Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee
Based on Lysistrata by Aristophanes
Edited by Ryan Denmark and Hye Mee Na
Samuel L. Jackson
Cinematography by Matthew Libatique
Released: December 4, 2015 (USA)
Summary: Chi-Raq is a satirical musical drama set in Chicago, the film is a satire that touches on the gang violence prevalent in some neighborhoods on the city's south side, particularly that of Englewood. The film is based on Aristophanes' Lysistrata, a Classical Greek comedy play in which various women withhold sex from their husbands as punishment for fighting in war. The name "Chi-Raq" is a portmanteau of "Chicago" and "Iraq" as well as an endonym commonly used by South Side residents to liken the area to a war zone due to its extremely high crime rates.
Review: I don’t think I’m speaking out of school when I say Chi-Raq is Spike Lee’s most significant work in years. Spike returns to his social issues roots as only he can. The film is a satire and has humor, but it’s still very serious. The first part of the film deals with the murder of a child from a stray bullet. A bullet fired by warring gangs. The film touches on all the gang violence and gang mentality without being another “hood film”. Yes there is explicit language, drinking and smoking, but most of it is told in a rhyming scheme. Yes, most of the dialogue is spoken in rhyme. When I read about it, it sounded really off base, but watching the film it didn’t bother me at all. Spike Lee really weaves it in and out and it never comes off tired. Like a theater director friend of mine said, think of it as old Rudy Ray Moore/Dolemite records. It’s an artistic affect, a technique and it works. The films weaves in the humor/satire, rhyming, the messages, real life statistics and still had some of the most powerful scenes in cinema 2015.
|Samuel L. Jackson in Chi-Raq|
Most of that power comes from the across the board terrific performances. Nick Cannon was really good and frankly, far better than I thought he might be. Angela Bassett really brings it as one of the older women in the community who has seen far too many shootings and murders she has some great scenes. Samuel L. Jackson is perfect as the narrator/Greek chorus of the film "Dolmedes". His narration really ties the multiple storylines together and no one can deliver lines like Sam Jackson.
|Jennifer Hudson in Chi-Raq|
The early scenes with Jennifer Hudson were good, but she really builds to some terrific, powerful scenes as the film goes on. A really great performance.
|John Cusack in Chi-Raq|
One of the most powerful scenes in the film was the child’s funeral lead by a spectacular performance by John Cusack. Spike and his editors deserve recognition for crafting a long funeral of a child–yet still making it compelling and moving. I think in the hands of a lesser filmmaker the scene could have really come off as maudlin and dare I say trite. John Cusack really delivers in this scene with a powerful sermon.
|Teyonah Parris in Chi-Raq|
The film though belongs to the terrific Leading performance of Teyonah Parris. Her character Lysistrata doesn’t start off as one of the “conscious sisters” you might suspect. Not a ghetto “hood rat”, but not exactly conscious either. Her character has the greatest character arc and leads the rebellion of “no peace, no piece” (even though the film addresses it more explicitly) to a worldwide phenomena. You believe Lysistrata every step of the way in her journey from bystander to leader. Definitely a star-making performance.
I thought Chi-Raq was terrific and a true return to form for Spike Lee. I admit, I didn’t know what to think going into see Chi-Raq, but as I said on social media “I loved it! Everything it did, everything it was trying to say."
I have to say that from the start people really got the idea of this movie WRONG, from the community to the prospective audiences. Chicago residents and City Council members had requested that Lee change the name of the film, going so far as to threaten the tax credits that the filmmaker will receive from the city. (Chicago Tribune) Then the lighthearted trailer (which more than likely the studio put together) was released and that caused people across social media to decry that Spike was making light of the extremely high murder rates in Chicago. Then audiences that saw it never got the rhyming scheme or the satire.
As Spike Lee said, he wasn’t making “Menace II Society 2” nor I thought should he. We have seen too many of those type of “hood films” and I applaud Spike for making something artful yet impactful. I think if more people see it, more will get it than not. I saw it in theaters on Opening Day, but as of this publishing Chi-Raq is available across multiple VOD (Video On Demand) platforms. If you’re interested, see it for yourself and make up your mind then.
- Read more of my posts about Spike Lee here