Chi-Raq movie full length review - "Chi-Raq" = Peace
If you go back through Spike Lee's career, you'll notice that he averages at least one film a year. That's a pretty prolific and active filmmaker.
It's true that Lee has delivered some true cinematic masterpieces - "Do the Right Thing" (1989) and "Malcolm X" (1992), both of which are personal favorites of mine, come to mind - but he's also delivered some misfires; but in my close estimation, he has never made a truly bad movie.
Lee's best films usually have a sense of urgency to them, and seem to speak of the cultural mood of the moment; that is why "Do the Right Thing" remains his best film and was released at the right time in 1989 and people are STILL talking about it today. That same sense of urgency and timeliness is what makes his 2015 effort "Chi-Raq" the best film that he's done in years.
A problem faced by Lee in his later years was a lack of a focused vision, which is why some of those films in question ran overly long and had taken attention away from the main plots of his films and re-focused on unnecessary sub-plots, which were sometimes far more interesting.
That's not the case with his 2015 "Chi-Raq." "Chi-Raq" (a combination of "Chicago" and "Iraq," meaning that Chicago's South Side, particularly its Englewood neighborhood, resembles a war zone, like Afghanistan, or, Iraq) is a comedic stage play that harks back to Lee's earlier "Do the Right Thing," "School Daze" (1988), and his criminally underrated 1995 crime-drama "Clockers" (which is my third favorite film of his). "Chi-Raq" critiques Chicago's alarmingly high murder rate (which peaked in 2015 and according to statistics presented both in the film and media from the time, 55 people were shot over the 2015 Fourth of July weekend, which saw 10 of those shootings as homicides), gun violence, gang culture, black-on-black crime, sexual politics, the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality in one engaging, 127-minute feature.
Essentially a modern-day adaptation of the Classical Greek comedy "Lysistrata" by Aristophanes, the script, co-authored by Lee himself and Kevin Willmott, mixes poetry and rap, which not only adds to its authenticity as one of the more original films to come out last year, but also brings the culture of the Chicago inner-city to the cinematic forefront. Using the gun violence that the city saw in 2015 as a launch-pad - and with poetic narration by Dolmedes (Samuel L. Jackson) - "Chi-Raq" surrounds Lysistrata (Teyonah Harris), the girlfriend of Spartan gang leader and aspiring rapper Demetrius "Chi-Raq" Dupree (Nick Cannon).
After the seven-year-old daughter of a local neighborhood woman named Irene (Jennifer Hudson) is killed by a stray bullet in the city's latest gang shooting, Lysistrata, inspired by the 2003 Leymah Gbowee-led sex strike that ended the second civil war in Liberia and with further encouragement by Miss Helen (Angela Bassett) and street-wise local priest Father Mike (John Cusack, who preaches an inspiring sermon at a church), organizes a sex strike of her own - the women of the city will withhold sex from their men until all violence in the city ceases. This causes problems for the men of Chicago, not just Chi-Raq, but also his rival, one-eyed Trojan leader Cyclops (Wesley Snipes). Even the mayor, Mayor McCloud (D.B. Sweeney), feels the sting of forced-chastity when his biracial wife refuses to put out!
"Chi-Raq" is one of Spike Lee's greatest movies because of its sense of urgency and timelessness. There's no question that the alarmingly high murder rate last year - and the police-involved deaths of young black men and boys such as Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Walter Scott over the last few years (and who are all name-dropped at one point in the film) - inspired Lee to put "Chi-Raq" together. But he had fun with the story. It's a comedy and a satire, and it's all quite funny, but like all good satire, it draws much-needed attention to a problem that gets a lot of negative reporting in the media, but nothing gets done about - due to indifference from politicians and the general public alike, and the idolizing of self-destructive behavior by those in the communities affected by all this.
Like Lee's "Do the Right Thing," which people accused of not offering any real solutions to the problem of racism (and people even accused of inciting racial violence), "Chi-Raq" doesn't offer any real solutions to the problems faced by Chicago's gun violence epidemic. Instead, it presents a satirical fantasy scenario where chastity results in world peace. Who knows? Maybe a sex strike could lead to peace in Chicago? I really have no idea, but hopefully someone sees the movie and is inspired...
"Chi-Raq," like a number of truly great and deserving films over the years, was also grossly overlooked by the Academy this year. It goes to show the increasing loss of integrity that the Academy has sustained over the years. But I hope that in the coming years, "Chi-Raq" gets more attention and becomes regarded as one of the most important films of our time and one of Spike Lee's finest achievements.
But let's remember: "No Peace, No Piece!"