Dan Holford’s review published on Letterboxd:
“I am a revolutionary!”
Captivating, intriguing and a truly tragic tale of Fred Hampton and the lead up to his assassination. It’s a movie that takes its time in showing the small details of a crucial moment in history and one that I didn’t know that much about before hand. It crafts a brilliant biopic showcasing a year of Fred Hampton’s life, and how his life and words affected the people around him. It’s helped by a brilliant cast, with Stanfield and Kaluuya both give career high performances.
It was interesting having the focus of the film be more centered on Bill O’Neal. An interesting and deeply complex man, someone who is emotionally confused and has morals that flip around as the movie plays out. His arc is probably the most interesting, going from a low level car thief to rising up through the ranks of the Black Panther movement all while being manipulated by the FBI, becoming a pawn in a much bigger game. The film manages to dance a fine line between casting O’Neal as the villain or a tragic figure who has lost his battle against the higher powers.
Shaka King manages to capture the feeling of the times perfectly, pushing towards the crucial moment of the assassination and detailing its important characters really well. There’s a brilliant script that allows for some great dialogue and revolutionary type scenes, as well as giving our two main characters enough depth and interesting arcs that when the brutal finale arrives, it comes with so much emotion and tragedy. There are a couple of moments that didn’t quite feel necessary to the overall arching plot, and it does feel a little meandering, creating an awkwardness to some of the pacing in the middle, but it mostly feels tight and keeps the drama as the tension rises in the final act.
Lakeith Stanfield is great as O’Neal, his arc perfectly showcased as he becomes more and more involved with the FBI and the Panther movement. The sadness of his character seeps out of his performance, leaving enough moral ambiguity to his characters motives and reasoning behind his actions. Daniel Kaluuya is one of my favourite actors working today, his performance here is certainly awards worthy. He captures the essence of Fred Hampton, the charisma and charm he has in the powerful speeches he delivers to his followers. It’s captivating watching Kaluuya deliver each and every one of these monologues. The film also takes its time to humanise him, his relationship with the brilliant Dominique Fishback’s, Deborah Johnson, is interesting albeit not quite fleshed out enough.
A film that resonates enough emotion and feels impactful, those final 20 or so minutes are absolutely devastating and leave a lingering impact on the audience.