Friday, December 23, 2011

CAPSULE REVIEW: The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)

The Spook Who Sat by the Door has all the makings of a blaxploitation film: an ex-CIA protagonist outraged at the injustice in the streets who takes matters into his own hands, racist white men at the top of the power structure leading a campaign of corruption and oppression against the inner city, and a revenge/vigilante-centered plot. Somewhere along the line though, you realize that this film is going places most blaxploitation films wouldn't dare. There's an edge to the rhetoric delivered by Dan Freeman (Lawrence Cook) that's willing to penetrate beyond the one-dimensional caricatures you'd expect from some throwaway action flick. Cook almost makes you believe that the corruption runs so deep through society and is so ingrained in our culture that the only one way to solve it is through a fully armed revolution. Is it any wonder studios didn't want to touch this back in 1973? The message is a strong one, but not one that's thrown out lightly. There's nuance a-plenty, and while Freeman slowly builds his army in preparation for all-out war against the United States, you'll find yourself drawn into his struggle while simultaneously being appalled at the scale of the undertaking he's attempting. While characters sometimes fall into stereotypes, this is a film that's mostly aware of the structure in which it's working. None of the characters are reduced to simple caricatures. Pitching it as blaxploitation was the only way this could have flown under the radar until it was released. While it's bound to provoke controversy, it's just an all-around good film. Thanks to the folks at Cinema Overdrive for unearthing this and closing out the 2011 season with a bang. (Also, the poster above is by artist Iron Jaiden, who's done consistently great work for Cinema Overdrive.)

8 / 10 = See it

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