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Spike Lee has done some amazing things throughout the course of his career of filmmaking which has spanned three decades and countless films. Not every film has been a hit but how many people in his profession can boast otherwise? Lee’s “meat and potatoes” if you will, is his ability to create thought provoking features that speak on subjects that many feel uncomfortable talking about, specifically that of race relations and behaviors. Chi-Raq moves right up near the front of the line with everything his latest movie attempts to touch on. Filled with many talented actors, Lee looks to get back to his roots as he tackles black-on-black crime with stage show flare.
Lysistrata is a Greek comedy by Aristophanes that follows a woman using abstinence as a weapon against war in Greece. Chi-Raq follows this same basic idea but in a more updated fashion. Violence is out of control in Chicago and it appears as though the black society is doing more than their fair share of the killing. Gang wars are taking out young people at an alarming rate. This story focuses on two such gangs, their leaders and the girl who has finally had enough and decides to do something about it. On one side you’ve a gang led by Cyclops (Wesley Snipes) who has been in the game for a long time. On the other is his rival gang led by a guy who goes by the name Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon). His girlfriend, Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) becomes fed up and wants to do something to help end all of the senseless violence. Lysistrata gets advice from a her boyfriend’s neighbor, Miss Helen (Angela Bassett), who leads her down a path of which she’s well equipped to fight. By using her sexuality, Lysistrata decides to withhold sex until the violence is stopped. Since one person wouldn’t have much of an impact on the matters at hand, she recruits all of the neighborhood women to take the same vow of celibacy and things just mushroom from there. This act definitely gets the attention of the guys and leads to all sorts of crazy revelations.
Spike Lee takes the traditional story of Lysistrata and morphs it into something that relatable to today’s youths as well as the elders. He even goes as far as keeping the rhyming dialogue although I am 100% positive that he took creative liberties in this area. This brings me to the narrator of the story, Dolmedes (Samuel L. Jackson) who was in his element. Every time he speaks you have no idea what is about to come out of his mouth and what direction he’s going to spin it in. He is perfect for this role because he handles things in a way that is unique to his persona. Irene (Jennifer Hudson) is the catalyst for Chi-Raq as it’s her tragedy that gets the ball rolling. Her pain is very evident and your heart breaks for her every time she speaks. John Cusack who plays Father Mike Corridan is another one of those characters that is polarizing on the screen. He speaks with such passion that he may have missed his calling as an actual Father.
Wesley Snipes will bring smiles to faces as his character is very colorful and he’s oblivious to the fact that he’s an old cat in a young man’s game. Unfortunately Nick Cannon’s performance falls a little short and comes off as flat. Out of everyone featured, he was one of the only ones that didn’t knock it out of the park. That’s not to say he was bad but everyone else shined so brightly. That brings me to Teyonah Parris. She carried herself as the seasoned big screen performer that she IS NOT. Mostly known for roles on cable’s Mad Men and Survivor’s Remorse, she did not seem at all intimidated by the stars surrounding her. She was front and center while demanding all eyes be on her. That’s a testament to both she and Spike Lee, who cast her in the role in the first place.
There are many lessons to be taken away from Chi-Raq. The biggest one is probably the sheer stupidity on which people act and their total disregard for the value of life. Even though there are many moments to laugh at, this is a serious movie that deals with some of the toughest topics many of us face in today’s society. This isn’t an experience like kicking back and watching Star Wars and escaping reality for a couple of hours. This will have you looking at the world differently and possibly wondering what you might be able to do to affect the world in a positive manner. The more reserved moviegoer might find Chi-Raq offensive at times but nothing is done in excess without serving an underlying purpose. This Spike Lee Joint is well done and very much so worth checking out.

Chi-Raq is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Carl Wheeler

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