It's unfortunate that Spike Lee's politics have always overshadowed his skill as a filmmaker. Unquestionably, for the last ten years, Lee has been one of the most innovative and challenging American filmmakers. Films like Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X and Clockers have exhibited Lee expertly weaving unpopular politics with a filmmaking style that pushes conventional methods of storytelling to the edge. When Lee's films have found some commercial play, the raw nerves they finger have sparked heated political debate, solidifying his place as gadfly extraordinaire but detracting attention away from his filmmaking prowess.
In this respect, Get on the Bus follows form. Chronicling a bus ride of a group of black men from Los Angeles to Washington DC for the Million Man March, Get On The Bus is Lee's most overtly political film to date. Essentially a round table on the state of black men in America, Lee has filled the bus with a disparate group of men. There's an ex-gang banger, a mulatto cop, a gay republican, an old wise man, an upscale actor, an absentee father reconnecting with his son, and a Jewish bus driver. In the hands of a lesser director this film could have been a disaster—a stultifying, claustrophobic bus ride filled with trite, stereotypical chatter. But Lee, courtesy of a sharp script, excellent ensemble acting, fluid camera work and a lot of Curtis Mayfield on the soundtrack, manages a very natural, surprisingly unforced journey toward the March. The film delicately mingles the personal banter of a roadtrip with the political purpose that underscores the trip. The discussion is lively, engaging and at times downright combative. Get On The Bus wholly succeeds in giving a personal face to the March and showing the range of concerns within the black community.
And like all good roadtrip movies, things are not always smooth sailing. Bus breakdowns, trouble with Smokies and their drug-sniffing dogs, infighting and coronary arrests all add a bit of spice to the trip, threatening to foil the group's hopes of actually getting to the March.
Get On The Bus may not rate as one of Lee's best, but it's extremely satisfying and adds another fine film to a stellar body of work.
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