Note: This review was originally written for Banterflix (see here) in conjunction with the film’s December 2016 UK release.
Chi-Raq is a film that captures our time,
A sprawling, crazy tale of black-on-black crime;
A messy, sometimes confounding, minor masterpiece
That sees Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata” applied to war on the streets.
It’s an angry retelling of the ancient Greek play
About a woman seeking peace in an unorthodox way.
She rallies all women to refuse sex towards men
In pursuit of peace on the streets – no more killing again.
Lysistrata’s demand is simple, but not so easy,
Yet her cry gains momentum: “No peace, no pussy!”
We begin with an overture: “Pray 4 My City,”
A rousing anthem inducing terrible pity
As Nick Cannon describes a city that’s falling apart;
A siren, a call, a desperate cry from the heart.
To the music, the lyrics are printed in time,
Then Sam Jackson turns up and starts speaking in rhyme.
Sam plays Dolmedes, the dapper Greek Chorus,
Narrating a tale that cannot possibly bore us.
Two gangs are at war – the Trojans and Spartans –
Shedding black blood on the streets causing the city to darken;
Two sides blinded by gangsters and glory
Gun each other down like some cruel West Side Story.
Wesley Snipes plays Cyclops, leader of the Trojans,
With anger and lust as his primary emotions.
Nick Cannon plays Chi-Raq, leader of Spartans,
Who shares the same name as the place where disheartened
Families have to sit and watch loved ones die;
But not a witness comes forward, not a soul testifies.
Teyonah Parris plays Lysistrata: a bad-ass chick;
A confident, sexy, self-assured feminist
Who knows what she wants, is never sycophantic,
Breathing dynamic new life into this bawdy Greek classic.
Inspiration for action comes from Angela Bassett,
From which Lysistrata focuses on one particular facet
With which to rid the streets of suffering and agony.
Her plan: a form of regimental chastity.
Chi-Raq is gorgeously shot and impressively staged,
Boarding on the silly and tragic in bold, daring ways;
Often as surreal as Buñuel and as funny as Chappelle,
Who turns up in a night club to give the Trojans hell
For driving all of his showgirls away
In one of many hilarious examples of the stellar screenplay.
Chi-Raq, spoke almost entirely in verse,
Is the tragic nickname of a place with worse
Crime than America’s Middle Eastern affairs;
But when the poor at home are murdered, who cares?
More Americans are killed in Chicago than Iraq
And most of those killed are young men who are black,
Thus Chicago and Iraq form a portmanteau
Creating “Chi-Raq”: a war zone in South Chicago.
Jennifer Hudson is a mother grieving her child,
An innocent schoolgirl that always wore a cute smile
Until a stray bullet flew and caught her left eye:
Killed on the street for being a passer-by;
Killed without her mother getting to say goodbye.
But her mother isn’t going to just standby,
She is not going to see her little baby girl die
In vain for the pain that these killers have caused,
For the dozens of innocent black lives lost;
So she tirelessly works to see that justice is done,
To have this man behind bars, to stop this killing with guns.
Theatrical sequences litter the movie:
Some hot and spicy, some bizarre and some goofy.
But all are urgent, they burst with vitality,
Sometimes blurring the line between fantasy and reality,
For this sumptuous satire is such a sensation
And one of the most original films I’ve seen in ages.
It will anger some, perhaps even offend a few
After tackling subjects that may seem taboo,
But Chi-Raq is a gem and should not be missed
So please check it out – no honestly, I insist.
Yes the film’s bold, brash and undeniably preachy,
But it’s done so well that it’s a testament to Spike Lee’s
Direction and skill – he’s at the top of his game,
Creating a film deserving of almost every of acclaim:
A film that is biting and with serious sting
And his very best film since Do the Right Thing.
It’s a sprawling, messy sensational movie,
Aspects of which are of staggering beauty.
Never once is it boring, bland or chaste,
Though admittedly it won’t be to everyone’s taste,
But this is Spike Lee at his best, resurrecting his voice;
And I, for one, am delighted – I expect you, too, to rejoice.
So welcome back Spike, but please, I beseech you:
Stick around a while – because America needs you.
“Chi-Raq” is released in the UK on 2nd of December 2016