"Chi-raq delivers serious political messages about guns, gangs and Black Lives Matter which don’t quite gel with the silly gags, but Teyonah Parris and Samuel L. Jackson make it worthwhile"
With issues like Black Lives Matter and gun control high in the public consciousness, it is no surprise Spike Lee decided to make Chi-raq, a politically-charged film about two gangs in Chicago, Illinois (also dubbed as Chi-raq for the rate of gun-related deaths) and how the females decide to withhold sex until they agree to stop fighting.
The plot is inspired by the classic Greek comedy Lysistrata, and the name is given to the lead character in the movie, played by Teyonah Parris. She is the girlfriend of Chi-raq (Nick Cannon), a rapper and the leader of the Spartans. Their rival gang, the Trojans, is lead by Cyclops (Wesley Snipes) and during one shootout; the young daughter of Irene (Jennifer Hudson) is hit by a stray bullet and killed. Lysistrata orchestras the sex ban between both gangs and takes over the city’s armoury in the hope of stopping the gang war and more innocent lives being taken.
Chi-raq begins very seriously with statistics about the number of Americans killed in Chicago compared to Iraq and there are moments in the movie which have serious political messages, but it is a satire so it’s also quite funny and at times, even silly and ridiculous. The differing tones aren’t balanced perfectly and this sometimes means you don’t know how to read a scene. For example, John Cusack, who plays the local religious leader, gives a rousing, politically-heavy speech at the young child’s funeral but he also seems a bit nuts and OTT, so you’re not sure if you should take it seriously.
Cusack felt oddly cast in this and it was difficult to think of him as Father Mike Corridan instead of going “that’s John Cusack”. It was distracting. The best casting choice by a mile was Parris, who looks set to be huge. She is gorgeous, feisty and you can’t look away from her when she’s onscreen. Another fantastic addition was Hudson, brilliant as a grieving mother, and Samuel L. Jackson as the narrator, who breaks the fourth wall and tells the story in rhyme while wearing amazing, vibrant dandy clothes and using a cane.
Chi-raq is called a musical but it isn’t in the sense you would expect. The soundtrack relies a lot on rap music but there is no actual singing or songs, per se. Occasionally the characters will speak in rhyme, sometimes in couplets, others less obvious. Getting the rhythm of each line down though is one heck of a challenge so they must be applauded for that.
Chi-raq delivers serious political messages about guns, gangs and Black Lives Matter which don’t quite gel with the silly gags, but Teyonah Parris and Samuel L. Jackson make it worthwhile.