ben schmidt’s review published on Letterboxd:
there's value simply for giving $25 million to depict some of what's depicted here: the free breakfast programs and non-"militant" community work of the Panthers; the FBI's targeting of black activists as a wider anti-left agenda; the plain brutality of Hampton's assassination. if only as a history lesson for the uninitiated, it's a positive (really though if you say it's "for the current moment" idk maybe like double up on your history lessons? the moment never ended, or maybe it's only a moment when Good Morning America says #blacklivesmatter). it's capable and skillful, and god knows what it took to get a script like this (shooting a cop uh point blank) smuggled through to completion.
but it ultimately disappoints. Kaluuya good but reduced to speechifying, Stanfield given little to do but sweat and jitter. Hampton asks at one point "is it about me or is it about the movement?" and i mean, it's a movie with the words Black Messiah in the title, but it ultimately feels like neither. i have a larger theory about the 60's being this era of indelible TV images and symbols, ones that loom so large that they just subsume the entire texture of the time, and why every movie set then, especially when we're in a Moment™️, feels somewhat superficial ... the same montage of the King-X-RFK assassinations, the same Black Panther footage, speeches but not experiences. the interiority and perspective of Stanfield also just not given its due: he's apolitical, but what does he believe as he gets to know Fred? how does he change or not? Departed cosplay. i still ... liked it! Dominique Fishback the heart and soul. honestly i think i blame Hunger for setting the bar for political filmmaking when i was 18 and nothing ever coming close again! keep trying!