'Wake Up!' We Need Spike Lee's Chi-Raq
It doesn't always work, but it's a 'wake-up alarm,' say critics
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 4, 2015 9:51 AM CST

(Newser) – Taking a page from the ancient Greek play Lysistrata and modern-day Chicago, Spike Lee's Chi-Raq centers on a women's movement to withdraw from sex in an attempt to curb gun violence on the South Side. It has particular meaning as homicides in the city rack up. Here's what critics are saying:

  • From the start—in which Lee notes the death toll in Chicago over the last 15 years has eclipsed American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan put together, Chi-Raq is "a shattering, thunderous wake-up alarm, a call to lay down arms, a gutsy social satire and a highly stylized work of fiction that sometimes feels as accurate and sobering as the crime reporting," writes Richard Roeper at the Chicago Sun-Times. The film is "filled with wild shifts in tone" but remains "in your face and reaching for your conscience."
  • "Finally, a movie about something important," writes Soren Andersen at the Seattle Times. It tackles Chicago gun violence with anger and "sorrow … but also, surprisingly, humor. And even, unexpectedly, rousing song and dance numbers." Teyonah Parris, Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, John Cusack, and Samuel L. Jackson all "give fervent performances" while delivering rhyming lines. It mostly works, leaving you with this message: "Wake up!"

  • Based on an ancient Greek comedy in which women go on a sex strike in an effort to end the Peloponnesian War, Chi-Raq is "urgent, surreal, furious, funny, and wildly messy," writes Manohla Dargis at the New York Times. This may sound like it's destined for failure, "but it's an improbable triumph" with Lee "doing some of his best work in years," she writes. "While you can argue with Mr. Lee's ideas, cinematic and political, few directors shake you up this hard, creating laughter that is as bitter as tears."
  • "Here's Spike Lee at his ballsiest. Who else would update Aristophanes' Lysistrata, set in ancient Greece, and prop it up in present-day Englewood, Chicago?" writes Peter Travers at Rolling Stone. Parris makes a "terrific" Lysistrata, he adds. But is it all a bit too much? "You bet," says Travers. He argues Lee "doesn't know when to quit," though he allows that that's "part of his gift." Lee "creates an unholy mess trying to combine comedy and tragedy. But he's spoiling to be heard and that counts for something."
(One Chicago woman is trying to bring the film's plot to real life.)