29 February 2004 | bob the moo
Too glossy and revisionist to be objective but still watchable (but not as a historical piece in any way)
1960's inner city America. Tired of non-effective prayer meetings, vigils and pleas to God, a group within the black community decide to take more direct action. Taking the principles of Malcolm X, the group study their rights and begin to bear arms and take a stand against the inequality and the brutality towards their community.
The subject is worthy of a film and is an interesting piece of civil rights history but this film is not the one to do it. The blame for much of this much sadly rest with Peebles in his role as director. If Spike Lee and Denzel Washington could be seen as the black A-list, then Peebles must be very much a C-list star, and his films are often worthy of B or C grades. This is the problem here, the film is not great as a film. It is told in a simplistic, fist raising way that takes away from the impact of it as reality. The focus on Judge's involvement rather than the story of the movement itself, turning the film into more of a action film than one of historical interest.
This is a shame as, even embellished with pro-black slant, the subject would have been interesting. As it is, the fact about whether this was true or not didn't matter to me because I didn't get the impression of history, I got told a story of a man who tries to act as a mole for the group, while some militant group spreads throughout the country. It's a real shame - cause that's not the story I was hoping to be told.
If Peebles is a C-list member, then the rest of the cast comes across like very much a second rate version of Malcolm X. Hardison is a poor comic, never mind requiring him to do a dramatic role. Chong is OK as Huey but he isn't really well served by a film that doesn't pull back well enough and see what the panthers grow to become (and the `finally' bit at the end doesn't cut it). Generally the cast feel like they wouldn't be out of place in a TVM and their performances mostly reflect that. Again, it is a shame but it's hard not to blame the material for their inability to rise above it.
Overall this film was a major letdown for me. I was expecting or hoping for a film that had some historical context and would have the force and impact of Malcolm X. Sadly I was expecting too much from it and this would have been better enjoyed as a thriller that happens to be set in the middle of a Panther cell rather than anything else.