Review by Gordon Justesen
Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Teyonah Parris, Jennifer Hudson, Steve Harris, Harry
Lennix, D.B. Sweeney, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Spike Lee
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.39:1
Features: See Review
Length: 127 Minutes
Release Date: January 26, 2016
“Repeat after me: I will deny all rights of access or entrance.”
Spike Lee is one filmmaker who is never afraid of pushing hot button topics when making a film. And Chi-Raq is without question a film that belongs right up there with Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X and Bamboozled in terms of grabbing and shaking the viewer to become fully aware of issues that need to be addressed. It’s a busy film, and even a messy one at times, but it leaves the audience with something to think about long after experiencing it.
Much like Bamboozled, Lee takes a somewhat satirical approach to a most important topic; that of gun violence plaguing the streets of Chicago. In addition to being a satire, Lee has also created a modern retelling of the Greek play “Lysistrata”. And in doing so, we are supplied with the great Samuel L. Jackson as a narrator/overseer of events, calling back to his strong presence in Do the Right Thing.
The title carries a double meaning. It refers to Chicago very much becoming a war zone like Iraq, but it also serves as the stage name of the lead character, Demetrius (Nick Cannon), who’s popular for being both a rapper and leader of a gang known as the Spartans, who wear purple. Their rival gang is the orange donning Trojans.
When the turf war results in the brutal death of an innocent bystander, Demetrius’ girlfriend, Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris), initiates a strike of an unusual sort. She calls for all women, be it Spartan or Trojan linked, to end the gang war by withholding sex from men until absolute peace is reached. If you notice the film’s tagline, “No Peace, no piece”, well...it’s a bit more specific than that.
A lot of the dialogue is written in rhyme. That gives the film a distinctive voice and rhythm that is extremely rare in modern cinema. Even if this wasn’t inspired by a Greek play, it would still come off most remarkable.
The film suffers slightly with a few missteps. Most notably is a bit concerning Lysistrata’s somewhat kinky confrontation with a National Guard commander who’s a bit more than obsessed with the confederacy. And the whole involvement of corporate America does seem a bit tacked on in the end.
But those minor flaws don’t even begin to overshadow the effect of what is quite simply one of the boldest films to emerge in ages. Like the very best of Spike Lee, Chi-Raq is dangerous, furious, engaging, and extremely important. Lee is one of few filmmakers who always wants to open his viewers eyes, which this film will certainly do.
Spike Lee’s films always carry a distinct look that very often mirror the edginess of the stories he tells, and Chi-Raq is no exception. This Lionsgate Blu-ray delivers a most eye-catching and visually vibrant HD presentation. Colors are incredibly strong, especially in the some of the darker underground set pieces early in the film. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique provides one striking image after another in multiple scenes. This brutal environment is captured in a most riveting way through the magnificent color appearance and tremendous image detail.
Just like the film itself, the DTS HD mix is thoroughly alive and on fire. Lee’s canvas provides a great deal of areas for lossless audio to work its wonders. Music is rarely not in the background throughout the film, and there’s a equal mix of musically effective scenes and ones featuring harsh realistic violence that explodes through the channels in the most effective form possible. Added to that, many scenes featuring large crowd gatherings that also get knockout sound delivery. A truly effective presentation to mirror a film of the same manner.
Included on this Blu-ray release is a brief featurette titled “The Making of Chi-Raq”, 17 Deleted and Extended Scenes and a music video for the song, “We Gotta Do Better” by Kevon Carter.
If Spike Lee makes a film with a topical issue, or any film for that matter, it simply demands to be seen. Such is the case with Chi-Raq, which will hopefully open the eyes of all who watch it and raise awareness to a very serious matter. The Blu-ray presentation from Lionsgate is hands down masterful!