The approach of Shaka King, a director who, eight years after Newlyweeds, offers here a second feature film intended for the big screen, however, differs from that of Aaron Sorkin, insofar as the narrative, inspired by real-life events, focuses only on Fred Hampton, leader of the Black Panther movement in Illinois. As the title of the film suggests, this poignant biographical drama will be about the betrayal of an ally, which tragically ended in the leader’s assassination in his apartment, while he slept, during an assault led by the FBI and the forces. Chicago police officers. He was 21 years old.
Daniel Kaluuya, named to the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards in the category of best actor, slips into the skin of a young man whose ascendancy over the crowds immediately made him suspect in the eyes of the authorities, including within the highest instances of the FBI, then headed by J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen). All the means being good to neutralize the African-American militancy, especially that conveyed by a movement claiming socialism and the revolution, the organization did not hesitate to use more underground means to achieve its ends.
The screenplay (co-written by Will Berson and the filmmaker from a story by Kenneth and Keith Lucas) thus centres on how an FBI agent (Jesse Plemons) went about reaching Hampton by recruiting William O’Neal (excellent LaKeith Stanfield), young lost car thief, whose mission was to infiltrate the Black Panther movement, to gain the leader’s trust and even to develop a friendship with him.
The great quality of this feature film is to keep its story on a human level by avoiding clichés and stripping it of all Manichaeism.
Having said that, there is also the story, necessarily shocking. King tells it in a captivating way, with a staging evoking the spirit of the time, without ever falling into caricature. It is also undeniable that this film, in which we echo the style of great American cinema of the 60s and 70s, would benefit from being seen on the big screen.
The filmmaker can also rely on a great performance by his main actor. Surrounded by an impeccable ensemble cast, British actor Daniel Kaluuya gives his character the charisma and quiet strength of a leader with a tragic fate. More than 50 years after the events, the news reminds us how important it is to revisit certain painful chapters of history in order to unearth too deep roots.