Sunday, January 15, 2012

Review: Mario Van Peeples' "Panther" Burns Hot (Happy B'day, Mario Van Peeples)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 116 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Panther (1995)
Running time: 123 minutes (2 hours, 3 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong violence and language
DIRECTOR: Mario Van Peebles
WRITER: Melvin Van Peebles (based upon his novel)
PRODUCERS: Preston L. Holmes, Mario Van Peebles, and Melvin Van Peebles
EDITORS: Kevin Lindstrom and Earl Watson
COMPOSER: Stanley Clarke


Starring: Kadeem Harrdison, Bokeem Woodbine, Joe Don Baker, Courtney B. Vance, Tyrin Turner, Marcus Chong, Anthony Griffith, Bobby Brown, Angela Bassett, Nefertiti, James Russo, Jenifer Lewis, Richard A. Dysart, M. Emmet Walsh, Anthony Johnson, Wesley Jonathan, and Chris Rock

Panther, the film project of father/son filmmakers Melvin (dad) and Mario (son) Van Peebles, is not biopic about the Black Panthers (or The Black Panthers for Self Defense), so much as it, like Oliver Stone’s JFK, myth making, and myths are often based upon real people and actual events. As a side note, Robert De Niro is one of this film’s producers, but he did not receive screen credit.

The Van Peebles tell the story from the point of view of a fictional character named Judge (Kadeem Harrdison). A Vietnam vet attending college in Oakland in 1967, he catches the attention of a slowly growing organization of black men in his neighborhood, The Black Panthers for Self-Defense, who are tired of marching and praying to get the white power structure’s attention to the needs of the black community. They want action, and they want guns to defend themselves. With coaxing from Panther co-leader, Huey Newton (Marcus Chong), Judge joins the group in time to watch it rise and earn the ire of the police and the FBI and fall as cheap drugs pour into Judge’s neighborhood.

Panther is a hodge-podge epic that is part historical drama, part propaganda, part myth, and a little bit documentary. At the time of the film’s release, a lot of critics and “people who were there” were critical of the film’s inaccuracies. But Panther isn’t history so much as it really is myth making. It’s all a matter of perspective, and the filmmakers take a time and a group of people whom they admire and making a rousing historical mini-epic out of that. It’s almost like a comic book in which the Panthers are super heroes fighting super evil cops and corrupt government officials, all of whom are manipulated by malevolent, shadowy figures in Washington D.C.

Many of the filmmaking aspects of the film are quite good or at least respectable, but none of that matters. The enjoyment of Panther comes from the total package, and how you feel about it. The Panthers were and are so controversial; how you feel about them and how you feel about their portrayal in the film will decide how you feel about and what you think of the film. I like it. I like the action movie/comic book heroes aspect of the film. It’s great to watch young black men fight the deliciously evil pigs of this film.

7 of 10


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