Chi-Raq Review

Chi-Raq Review
4.0Overall Score

chi-raq_imgSpike Lee’s Chi-Raq is an important, evocative and urgent statement of a film; an illustration of why the medium is so powerful and significant. Based on the Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, Chi-Raq takes places in a modern day Chicago, commenting on the horrifying rising rates of gun crime. Featuring an all star cast including Teyonah Parris (who is empowering and spectacular in the lead role of Lysistrata), Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson, John Cusack and Jennifer Hudson, Chi-Raq is one of the most innovative and compelling films of the year. 

Whilst based on a Greek story, the film is also a satire and a “musical” – whilst not strictly the case, the film finds itself at its most powerful when the cast break out into song – a chance for them to really illustrate their points and push the story along. The dialogue itself is also rhyming, which envelopes the audiences in the opening lines and flows gently until the closing scenes. It’s a monster of a film, getting under the skin of the audience with the opening rap and exclaiming, “This is an emergency,” before going into vital stats that show the number of recent deaths in Chicago is higher than the deaths in Afghanistan since the war began.

The story follows Lysistrata (Parris) and her boyfriend, Chi-Raq (Cannon) – the leader of a local gang. His enemy from a rival gang is Cyclopes (Snipes) and the two groups are causing a gun war, which is affecting men, women and children alike. When Lysistrata’s house is burnt down, she finds herself moving in with Miss Helen (Bassett) who opens her eyes to the likes of Leymah Gbowee whose ideology aided in the end of the Second Liberian Civil War – that ideology was the use of female sexuality. Soon a young girl is killed and her mother (Hudson) grieves, placing blame on the door of Lysistrata but Lysistrata decides that it will be the women that help end this terror. Together with the girls from the rival gang, they decide to withhold their sexuality, bodies and anything physical from their men until all guns are put down. 

Where Chi-Raq could have become stuffy, sentimental and preachy, Lee instead moves in a different direction – chi-raq-21preferring to engage his audience with entertainment. There are genuinely moments of humour, of drama, sadness, education and action but he brings these expertly together in a way that makes Chi-Raq accessible to any audience member – from those who know of the fight against gun crime, to those without a single clue. But a defining strength of the film is the importance of the role of women – this writer thought the film was going to be one thing and ended up being massively surprised that Chi-Raq was an intelligent and thought provoking tale of the importance of women in society – and on a bigger scale than just within these gangs, but society in general. Another element was the excellent ensemble cast who all have something important to add, their chemistry sparkles on screen and each really look as if they are committed to telling this story.

Chi-Raq is an unforgettable experience, something that certainly stays with you and demands repeat viewings. An unstoppable film with fighting strength and a lot to say.

About The Author

Reviews Editor, Contributor and Festival Coordinator

Ollie has written for Front Row Reviews pretty much since its inception about seven years ago whilst still studying Film & Television. Since then, he was trust into the world of independent film distribution and has recently started working with Picturehouse Entertainment in their Marketing Department. Having written and produced two radio series, he is moving hoping to (one day) write a web series/short film/feature (delete as appropriate ;)). His favourite director is David Lynch (which makes him make a lot of sense!) and his favourite films are The Hours, Mulholland Drive, Volver, Blade Runner and Bridget Jones Diary.

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