Shaka King directs LaKeith Stanfield, Daniel Kaluuya and Jesse Plemons in this dual biopic of young Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and the secret FBI informant by his side, Bill O’Neal.
What a movie! Even though it stays completely within the realms of veracity, every other scene, nearly all interactions, simmer with the threat and peril of a great psychological thriller. The movie is pregnant with doom and risk, enveloping you in a world and a mindset of justified rebellion. Fred Hampton’s short but worthy life gets the lead performance it deserves in Kaluuya’s persuasive and charismatic powerhouse. LaKeith Stanfield continually impresses in all his projects but here he stretches every muscle of his acting core playing the tragic and conflicted snitch. Shaka King’s visual sensibilities are unshowy but impactful, I was often impressed by the unfussy luxury of his shot compositions and eye for period detail. This can’t have had the biggest budget in the world for its recreation of Sixties urban America but there’s never a detail that feels forced, cheap or fudged. The one stylistic choice that feels less organic but wholly successful is Craig Harris and Mark Isham’s foregrounded music. The discordant jazz score moans, swipes and bides it time throughout scenes, like being trapped in a room with an unseen wounded predator. Easily the finest Black Panther movie to date but also probably the best undercover movie ever made.
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