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Spike Lee is often accused of being an issue and message-based filmmaker, but most of his socio-politically charged output would not work without a strong base narrative to support it. Jungle Fever is an honest exploration of how much society still needs to evolve on interracial relationships, with a scornful condemnation of the crack cocaine epidemic that ravaged African-American communities as a side dish. But even if we were to put the racial context aside, it's a pretty solid Douglas Sirk-style domestic melodrama about a married man (Wesley Snipes) having an affair with his secretary (Annabella Sciorra) and how that affects everyone involved.
The conflict that both sides of the affair have to overcome feels insurmountable even without everyone around them giving the couple crap about the racial element. Lee doesn't hold back from examining the prejudice from both sides and comes to a truthful conclusion that's part depressing and part hopeful. Samuel L. Jackson as Snipes' crack head brother was so good in the part, that not only does his sub-plot steal the show, but Cannes made up an entire supporting actor category just to be able to give him an award. As he does with a lot of his similarly ambitious efforts, Lee tries to insert too many themes and plot threads, leading to an overlong runtime. Perhaps Gator's story could have served its own movie, giving Jackson the best lead performance award instead.
Lee's go-to DP Ernest Dickerson creates a realistic and gritty look for the film, blurring the line between Cassavetes and Kazan. Kino's 1080p transfer captures this look in a crisp way, without undermining the film's natural grain.
We only get a DTS-HD 2.0 stereo track. It would have been nice to experience the original songs Stevie Wonder wrote and performed for Jungle Fever through a surround mix, but the music is incorporated with nice depth and balance into the dialogue.
Only a handful of Trailers for Spike Lee joints.
Even though a lot of the hysteria surrounding interracial relationship has died down during the almost three decades since Jungle Fever's release, such prejudice and racism is still alive and well. Perhaps it's subtler, and has evolved into something sneakier, leading to Jordan Peele's recent efforts. Even so, and even despite the overindulgent pacing, Jungle Fever still remains one of the most honest and engaging explorations on the subject by Lee.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com