Judas and the Black Messiah is electrifying, tightly acted by Golden Globe Winner Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, and emotionally intimate.
Writer-Director Shaka King's (2013's Newlyweeds) biopic of Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton is a revolution. We see the events leading up to Hampton's unjust murder at the hands of the FBI. King's newest film is a radical and bold message displayed by a big-time studio (Warner Bros.) — putting its manifesto front and center of racial injustices and a society that oppresses its people. Kaluuya — now a Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actor in this film — is revolutionary in the role of Hampton. Kaluuya's poise and striking acting chops are on full display here. Here's hoping that he receives an Oscar nomination come this Monday, the 15th. While Stanfield is a knockout, showing that he has a commanding presence in the leading role, as he did in Boots Riley's Sorry to Bother You (2018).
Our story follows an FBI informant William O'Neal (Stanfield), who infiltrates the Illinois Black Panther Party. It's the late '60s, and O'Neal has just been arrested on attempted car hijacking while posing as a federal officer. FBI Special Agent Roy Mitchell (a perfect Jesse Plemons) offers O'Neal's charges to be dropped if he works undercover for the bureau. O'Neal agrees (hint Judas Iscariot) and is tasked to keep tabs on the Illinois BPP's leader and Chairman Fred Hampton (Kaluuya). Throughout the film, we see O'Neal yearning for quick cash, but starts growing more paranoid and conflicted as his character gets involved deeper into the bureau's plot. Stanfield's POV provides us with a number of masks, not knowing which one he'll pull out next. A battle wages in O'Neal's soul — what side of history will he be on?
Meanwhile, as Hampton's political prowess grows for the movement, he also falls in love with fellow revolutionary Deborah Johnson (a knockout Dominique Fishback). King's crisp script of racial justice and politics is as bold as it is urgent. My one critique of the film's screenplay was its small pacing problem in the first act. That completely disappears as we transition into act two, keeping us on the edge of our seats. Through an engaging story, powerful direction, meticulous acting, and striking cinematography, Judas and the Black Messiah is one of the best films to come out in 2021. In the end, Hampton's story needs to be heard. Through tragedy, anger, and a call for justice, Judas and the Black Messiah is a powerful political statement dropped on the doorsteps of capitalistic oppressors.
It's not too late! Judas and the Black Messiah is available to Stream on HBO Max until this Sunday, March 14th.
Judas and the Black Messiah is rated R (Restricted) Violence | Pervasive Language.
Directed by Shaka King
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Martin Sheen, Algee Smith, Lil Rel Howery, and Jermaine Fowler.
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