Synopsis: A modern day adaptation of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, set against the backdrop of gang violence in Chicago.
Stars: Teyonah Parris, Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Jennifer Hudson, D.B. Sweeney, Harry Lennix, Steve Harris, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Spike Lee
Running Length: 127 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: I can’t remember the last Spike Lee movie I saw…I’m ashamed to admit that I kind of gave up on the director about a decade ago after a series of heavy-handed offerings that got bogged down in their own messages. And I hadn’t even heard about Chi-Raq until a screening popped up on my list so I stayed away from any previews, put away my pre-conceived notions of the director’s past work, and knowing only that it was Lee’s update to Lysistrata by Aristophanes, I let the film speak for itself.
And speak it does…with a strong, loud, clear voice. It’s Lee’s voice and it’s familiar in its tone and delivery, but wrapped in a timely package about guns, violence, diversity, and peace. Lee has brought forth his most focused film in quite some time and while it has its interminable sections, there are moments of sheer brilliance that’s as good as anything else I saw in 2015.
In Chicago, violence is at an all-time high. People are gunned down on the streets, in their homes…the innocent and the guilty are indistinguishable. Into this mix we meet Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris, giving a star-making performance), the girlfriend of rapper Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon) who has had it with the violence always right outside of her doorstep. Moving in with a neighbor hardened by violence in her past (Angela Bassett), her eyes are opened to the power she holds to help effect change in her neighborhood.
After a child is gunned down in broad daylight, Lysistrata and her girlfriends band together to attempt to force their males to put down the weapons and make peace. How do they do it? Well, those familiar with Lysistrata will know but for newcomers, I’ll let that be something you discover on your own. It proves to be a method that brings international attention to the war on street violence, a happening that moves Lysistrata to the front lines of the battlefield.
Lee expertly brings Lysistrata forward to the new millennium and has created a movie arriving when gun violence is at an all-time high and questions about police action and neighborhood activism is front page news. Using Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight) as a hilarious Greek chorus, Lee gets his message across in a more commercial way but its nonetheless powerful in how it’s received.
There are some parts of Chi-Raq that bristle with firepower and moments that seem to stretch on forever, thankfully in the end there’s more that crackles than strains and the end result is a movie that’s important to see with a message imperative to heed.