STARRING: Teyonah Parris, Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Anya Engel-Adams, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Michelle Mitchenor, D. B Sweeney, Harry Lennix, La La Anthony, Felicia Pearson, Jay Washington, Dave Chappelle, Steve Harris, David Patrick Kelly, Irma P. Hall and Isiah Whitlock Jr.
A modern day adaptation of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, set against the backdrop of gang violence in Chicago, Illinois.
After the shooting death of a child hit by a stray bullet, a group of women led by Lysistrata organise against the on-going violence in Chicago’s Southside creating a movement that challenges the nature of race, sex and violence in America and around the world.
Directed by Spike Lee, who co-wrote the script with Kevin Willmott, Chi-Raq was the first original film released by Amazon studios and is a modern adaptation of the classic Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes. Set in Chicago’s Southside, gang violence rages on in the city due to a war between rival gangs, the Spartans and the Trojans, which eventually leads to the tragic death of a young child being caught in the crossfires by a stray bullet. When the lover of one of the gang leaders, Lysistrata, becomes disillusioned with the violence surrounding the neighbourhood, she learns of Leymah Gbowee, a woman who led a peace movement to stop the Second Liberian Civil War and decides to gather the Spartans’ lovers and the Trojans’ lovers to follow by Gbowee’s example….get the women to commit to a sex strike until the men agree to lay down arms.
Chi-Raq is a film where it’s clear that within the ambition of how Spike Lee wants to showcase the story he’s trying to tell, there’s alot of heart and passion underneath the fantastical stageshow we get into during the course of the film. While at times hilarious, particularly in how playful the words are as the film is spoken in rhyming-verses’s, it’s a serious battlecry of anguish and joy, as well as a message of pacifism. From the opening credits with Nick Cannon singing ‘Pray 4 My City’ to bold red lyrical text, to Samuel L. Jackson’s Dolemedes popping up every once and a while, the film may go bonkers at times but it oddly remains coherent. Teyonah Parris gives a great lead performance as Lysistrata, a woman who loves her man but eventually decides that something’s got to give in order to change things in the community. Nick Cannon surprised me a lot in this film, as I thought he gave a great performance as Demetrius “Chi-Raq” Dupree, the gang leader of the Spartans. Samuel L. Jackson has an absolute field day with the dialogue he gets to chew on as Dolemedes to the point I could easily listen to him for another hour to see what craziness he would come out with next. John Cusack is really good as Father Mike Corridan, a local preacher that arguably gets the meatiest scene in the film at Patti’s funeral, where he delivers a rousing five-six minute monologue about how the community is failed by the Government, right down to that the Government is in the pocket of the NRA. The cinematography work from Matthew Libatique is really good as is the use of soundtrack throughout the film.
While Spike Lee has a message and goes hell for leather in telling it, some people will probably find it a bit too on-the-nose in its delivery, whilst some scenes may feel tonally different to the drama in the film (basically from the armory onwards, from General King Kong to that seductive music sequence). Wesley Snipes performance as Sean “Cyclops” Andrews, leader of the Trojans, felt uneven for me as in his characters stance jumps from stoic gangster to a parody of a gangster, particularly in the first act of the film.
Spike Lee is at his best when he always has something to say and for better or worse, you can’t deny that his singular vision with Chi-Raq is ambitious, vibrant, riotous and significant in how he gets his points across. Teyonah Parris gives a terrific lead performance as Lysistrata, Nick Cannon impresses as Chi-Raq while other notable performances come from John Cusack, Angela Bassett and of course Samuel L. Jackson. It might feel messy in the latter half of the film but I still enjoyed watching it. 6/10