Saturday, February 16, 2013

PANTHER (1995)

Directed By: Mario Van Peebles Written By: Melvin Van Peebles (Based On His Novel) Cinematography By: Edward J. Pei Editor: Kevin Lindstrom & Earl Watson Cast: Kadeem Hardison, Bokeem Woodbine, Marcus Chong, Courtney B, Vance, Joe Don Baker, Tyrin Turner, Bobby Brown, Chris Rock, Angela Bassett, Jenifer Lewis, Dick Gregory, James Russo, M. Emmet Walsh, Roger Guenveur Smith, Michael Wincott, Richard Dysart, Mark Curry, James LeGros, Chris Tucker, Mario Van Peebles, Melvin Van Peebles, Wesley Jonathan, Kool Moe Dee, Lahmard J. Tate
Panther is a semi-historic film about the origins of The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The movie spans about 3 years (1966-68) of the Black Panther's history in Oakland. Panther also uses historical footage (B/W) to emphasize some points.

Here we go again. Don’t believe the hype.

The film has maybe a few greatest hits of the panthers, But this movie is not a accurate history. It is a decent film. Mario Van Peebles does it again. Though Wisely stays mostly behind the camera. He makes a film that is marketed as the true Story of the Black Panthers. Now I realize he had only a certain budget, but this film is about the formation of the panthers and follows part of it’s legacy, before taking a turn into a light blaxplotation thriller that involves the black panthers out of nowhere. It seems the film uses the formation of the panthers for the first act that leads to the second act which becomes a conspiracy thriller then the 3rd act just becomes a thriller. I like films that jump around from genre to genre if it is strong in the story it is telling and cohesive. Here it’s disjointed it tries to come together but it’s like patching with tape while slowly falling and coming apart, It stays together by the end but barely.   

There are many weird choices the film makes. Casting aside, It is more of a greatest hits package of the black panther highlights mixed in with made up characters who are seen as leaders who actually never existed. Part of the problem is that while the film tries to be dramatic at times it is undercut with scenes that turn comedic and feel out of place.

Watching this film again there is a certain sense of pride that the film provides. It is well filmed, but just feels like it is stretching when it is a story that is rich for material that makes me wonder if Van Peebles couldn’t get rights to certain real life people so he had to make up some of the story. Which makes the film feel a little light for the material it is tackling, Though the film raises good points and questions. Then betrays itself by ending like a exploitation film.

The movie provides the belief of the government filling African Americans full of drugs to bring the community down, Here the guy and threat they have to front in this particular neck of the woods is played by a petty thug for most of the film who all of a sudden comes back to the neighborhood as a drug kingpin. Now though there is a conspiracy all of a sudden his character becomes the over-reaching villain that must be stopped. Now the film works as far as making you want to go and research the actual Black Panthers. Even though it goes from being a supposed historical account into a b-movie quickly.

Which is the same problem I had with His previous film POSSE. Though it’s not hard to notice his talent behind the camera. I think Van Peebles need the right budget and material to make a film worthy of his talents a straight thriller. Kind of like his directorial debut NEW JACK CITY. As the film is to small scaled to truly tell the full story. It would have been nice to even have a tale of just the beginning. Marcus Chong as Huey P. Newton is miscast and overacts with too much intensity. The film I leant a bit of legitimacy and class by having Angela Bassett Reprise her role in a cameo as Betty Shabazz from the excellent movie MALCOLM X. I just wish the film was up to par with her appearance.


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