By Leslie C. Halpern
Like the violent rap culture of South Side, Chicago that’s at the center of this anti-gun film, there’s nothing subtle about the style or content of director Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq (a title that combines two war zones, Chicago and Iraq). His in-your-face filmmaking style assaults the senses with sounds and sights meant to capture the attention of those directly or indirectly involved with gang violence.
By also artistically tweaking Aristophanes’s ancient Greek play, Lysistrata with a modern-day setting and rap-style rhymed verse, Lee broadens the appeal somewhat to literate film-goers seeking creative adaptations of classic literature. Even so, the modern story focuses on gun worship, misogyny, gang warfare, ignorance, and hatred. And be prepared: This new poetic verse is often coarse, crude, and offensive in its word usage and intention.
Based on Ancient Greek Literature
As in the original play, when a child dies in the crossfire of warring gangs the Spartans and the Trojans, local women gather together and instigate a sex strike, the only way to get men’s full attention. In the film, wives, girlfriends, prostitutes, and exotic dancers led by Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) unite in their efforts to deny sexual favors to all men – even those not involved in gangs. Soon their message “this is an emergency” and their efforts to “save the babies” results in a worldwide sex strike promoting “No Peace. No Piece.”
Narrated by Dolmedes, a pimped-out one-man Greek chorus (Samuel L. Jackson), the story concerns two tough gang leaders, Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon) and Cyclops (Wesley Snipes), and their loyal followers, many of whom have been seriously injured in gun battles and have lost loved ones due to ongoing violence. Promoting peace and harmony throughout the story is Father Mike Corridan (John Cusack), a respected priest and the only white man in the community who works toward equal justice and opportunity.
Three Months of Abstinence
The story begins on sure footing, but loses ground when 75 unarmed women of color take over an armory building filled with horny white guys (cringe-worthy rather than amusing), whom they easily blindfold and bind in leather for their purposes. They plan to control the building until their demands for peace are met. Yet, after only three months of abstinence, the men and women of Chicago can’t take it anymore and are ready to negotiate. The final third lacks believability and loses its way sometimes, although the film eventually finds itself again and the conclusion produces the desired effect.
Other than Cusack’s sincere performance (Father Corridan’s raspy, but heartfelt, speech at the murdered child’s funeral) and Angela Bassett’s lovely portrayal of a local peace activist and grieving mother, the cast mostly perpetuates ethnic stereotypes. Chi-Raq is a mixed-race, mixed-genre, mixed-bag of filmmaker’s tricks that sometimes work and sometimes don’t, but bravely addresses the subject of gun violence, which is indeed an emergency.
Chicago’s gang violence results in the death of an innocent child hit by a stray bullet, which prompts a sex strike among women to end the violence in this modern-day adaptation of the ancient Greek play “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes.
- Stars: Nick Cannon, Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson, John Cusack, Jennifer Hudson, David Patrick Kelly
- Director: Spike Lee
- Genre: Drama
- Run Time: 127 minutes
- MPAA Rating: R (for strong sexual content including dialogue, nudity, language, some violence, and drug use)