Where do I begin? Chi-Raq is the newest joint directed and co-written by the legendary Spike Lee (Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus, Oldboy). Its stars Nick Cannon, w/ Teyonah Parris, John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, & Jennifer Hudson. Quite the combination of cast members for a modern day version of Aristophanes’ classic Greek comical account of the Peloponnesian War. Showing how the times aren’t changing as quickly as predicted, Mr. Lee changes the location of this ancient dramedy to a modern day Chicago, of sorts. With two fictitious gangs having an endless, bloody street war that is leaving far too many innocent bystanders fatally wounded. The Spartans are lead by Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon), while the Trojans are lead by Cyclops (Wesley Snipes). All the while, our narrator Dolmedes (Samuel L. Jackson) gives us all the exposition of this modern Shakespearean Chicago. Their street war even spilled into Chi-Raq’s concert (DJ’ed by Young Chop), where his beautiful girlfriend Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) is front row. Lysistrata reaches her limit, and after some eye opening situations, comes up with a brilliant strategy. Gather the female counterparts from both gangs and swear a vow of celibacy until the unnecessary violence stops.
Now… this film is completely in rhyme. Completely. Which some quick judging viewers will see as “rapping” and not diameter from yesteryear, brought to the big screen. It can catch you off guard, at times, but it is treated with such intricacy sometimes you forget it’s happening. Must mention Fr. Mike (John Cusack) for his powerful performance, along with Miss Helen (Angela Bassett). I also like how this screenplay matches the shot work. More of a live stage play vibe, a’la “School Daze”, how the rhythm of the conversations go.
Very colorful and boisterous in very dark backdrops, this film will slap you in the eyes with star studded cameo after star studded supporting role: Dave Chappelle, Lala Anthony, Sasha Go Hard, Vic Mensa, etc.
Is Chi-Raq gonna meet its mark with all young demographics?
Not all will understand it.
Will the older demographic that this film was subconsciously targeted at receive this as the art piece it is?
Again, not all will understand it. Or even have the patience to attempt.
Their are some moments in the film that drag, and some overload exposition on various topics concerning the black community shot off at random rapid fire. Some tongue and cheek moments come about right when you think the film is becoming serious. You aren’t sure whether to laugh or not in numerous spots throughout the film, which is good and bad depending on the timing of scenes.
Honestly, I think Chi-Raq is a smart approach to an old story, which relates in modern times. Story is so simple and predictable, that you are foolish not to appreciate the slow decline of the mentally broken men, once this trend catches on.
Once again, Spike Lee gives us a think-piece that the mind can chew on for a while.
Is it his best film? No. Is it his worst? Absolutely not. It will jump over some heads, and some will invest more than their is to collect on it, as well. Come one, come all and see this well crafted, smart movie that will keep conversations open for good reason.
Chi-Raq opens in theaters everywhere today!
RATING: Rated R.
RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes