Mark Asch’s review published on Letterboxd:
remains so funny that Obama tried to primary Bobby Rush
i sometimes get a sense of real guardedness from Lakeith Stanfield—both from his performances and also the occasional interview with white journalists, i perceive a laconic wit for the benefit of maybe a different audience than the one he has, a withholding wariness, absurdist misdirection. The wheels are turning and we will be privy to his thoughts when and if and to the degree he chooses. I didn’t think he was too old for the part, even though he’s lived 33% longer than his character at the time and 80% as long as he ever would—it’s the role he was born to play. Circumstances are flying past him and he just keeps going further inward to maintain a sense of himself but he can’t find it in there anymore.
I’ve read that one initial cut of the movie was more focused on O’Neal but King was convinced it was important to elevate Hampton’s story. I get it, he’s fresh and galvanic and a chance to insert genuinely revolutionary Marxist-Leninist spin onto the live ball of our discourse, but there’s still the wiki-service—“I’m Mark Clark”—and composite characters and signposting for contemporary political sensibilities and a Hero’s Suffering Wife (the “messiah” formula has been used up by movies about people who sacrificed themselves for less worthy causes already unfortunately). all the biopic stuff takes time that could be used to go deeper than lip service into Hampton and the Panthers’ actual political practice; or for a probably better more detailed thriller about O’Neal in which the ratcheting tension of his duplicity speaks to the profound complexities of idealism and pragmatism in Black American life maybe? Despite the title, Hampton and O’Neal don’t really interact in many meaningful ways.
Worth noting that, through Plemons’s character, this film is a sequel to MISSISSIPPI BURNING