Chi-Raq – Movie Review

Chi-RaqChi-Raq – R
Release Date: Fri 04 Dec 2015

The term Chi-Raq is a portmanteau of Chicago and Iraq, colloquially used to liken the gun violence and number of homicides to the number of American casualties in the Iraq war. The movie opens comparing the statistics and showing that there have been more homicides in Chicago than American casualties over the same period of time in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

The story is based on the classical Greek play Aristophanes Lysistrata by Aristophanes. As in the play, women band together to protest violence by denying sex to men until peace can be reached. It’s an interesting idea with entertaining possibilities, but Chi-Raq mainly uses it for comedic value.

It is between these two extremes the movie bounces back and forth. The subject matter of gun violence is treated very seriously while the response to the forced abstinence is almost always about making a quirky joke.

What’s missing is a call to action, thoughts on how to address gun violence in a meaningful way and what the audience is being asked to do. This stops it short from being a rallying experience. The sexual denial is mostly effective in the movie, but since it doesn’t treat that with any seriousness there’s not a secondary, more grounded solution.

The end result is a comedy that will entertain some viewers and seem fairly sexist (in that it literally pits men against women over access to their bodies) with a lot of repetitious rhetoric. Some lines are repeated throughout the movie, beating the message into you. In one particular scene, Angela Bassett’s character repeats a sentence over and over again as the camera pans around from her to others in the room. It’s unclear whether she is repeating this line or the repetition was added during editing. John Cusack plays a priest who acts as a vessel for the director to preach through in the most direct bit of messaging in the movie.

Samuel L. Jackson’s narration ultimately ends the movie with the phrase “wake up,” a line that also book-ended Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. Chances are that those who want to see a movie like this from Spike Lee are already converted and already awake. Unfortunately what the audience is meant to do next remains a mystery.

John, Matthew and I saw it in the theater and had a discussion in the car:


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