dir-prd Spike Lee
scr Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
with Teyonah Parris, Samuel L Jackson, Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, Harry Lennix, Steve Harris, Michelle Mitchenor, Ebony Joy, David Patrick Kelly
release US 4.Dec.15, UK 2.Dec.16
15/US Amazon 2h07
Lock it up! Parris and Cannon

jackson snipes hudson
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Chi-Raq Based on the Aristophanes play Lysistrata, this film is a love letter to Chicago, opening with a yearning cry that there's "too much hate in my city". Spike Lee plays this out with high energy, in rhyming verse. Grappling with a wide range of issues relating to race, gender and violence in American society, the film's bold sense of irony gives it a lacerating relevance.

More Americans are murdered annually in Chicago than died in the Iraq War, and most are black males. As rap-star Chi-Raq (Cannon) fuels his turf war with Cyclops (Snipes), a child is killed on the street. And Chi-Raq's smart-hot girlfriend Lysistrata (Parris) has finally had enough. Her straight-talking neighbour Helen (Bassett) suggests that the only way to change people is to take away something they love. So Lysistrata leads the women, including Cyclops' girlfriend (Mitchenor), to withhold sex until their men "bring the peace". As they stand-off against the men, their protest spreads globally.

Narrated with a flourish by Dolmedes (Jackson), the clever script is a rapid-fire barrage of text messages and gunfire, as Trojans take on the Spartans in Troy Town. The film also weaves in current events like the story of Leymah Gbowee, who helped end Liberia's civil war by leading a sex strike. And there's a strong current of slapstick comedy as the men flail to break the strike. Through all of this, Lee maintains a deeply personal approach, centring on the pain women experience due to callous masculine violence.

Parris is a force of nature at the centre, charismatically unleashing a revolution. And there's strong support from high-power costars like Bassett and Hudson (wrenching as a woman who loses a child). Opposite them, the men are much more comical as they arrogantly try to stand up against the power of these unbreakable women. They're strongly played by the sharp cast, including the more cartoonish characters like the overconfident police commissioner (Lennix) or a racist general (Kelly).

Chicago has always been a gangster town, but this feels like a war zone that the American government is ignoring. The film touches on a variety of causes and solutions, even if the discussion is a little superficial. Still, it's a strong plea for sense, for people in the middle of this situation to understand that they don't have to live like this. And that if you have any power at all, "you go and do it!"

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs 25.Oct.16

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall