The weaknesses inherent to revolution usually come from within…
It’s never too early the best films of the year to start rearing their heads, especially during this awards season. Judas & The Black Messiah pulls from a dark moment in history that was on the brink of change and the nefarious powers that want to pull down the officers of change from within.
FBI informant William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) infiltrates the Illinois Black Panther Party and is tasked with keeping tabs on their charismatic leader, Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). A career thief, O’Neal revels in the danger of manipulating both his comrades and his handler, Special Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons). Hampton’s political prowess grows just as he’s falling in love with fellow revolutionary Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback). Meanwhile, a battle wages for O’Neal’s soul. Will he align with the forces of good? Or subdue Hampton and The Panthers by any means, as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) commands?
Based on, inspired or whatever the hell you want to say it is; Judas & The Black Messiah is an absolute powerhouse of a film that feels so incredibly relevant for today’s age as it allows the social and political issues to stay on the surface while really capturing the turmoil of emotion that is undoubtedly present in any organization that is trying to fight for political change. It also captures the natural human instinct that is aware of how terrifying change can truly be thanks to some amazing performances.
Writer/Director Shaka King crafts something here that is slick and feels very emotionally relevant as it allows the politics of the time feel somewhat secondary of the emotion of those involved trying to make their community a better place.
It’s a well designed period piece which has real flow to it from beginning to end and marrying it to a compelling score, vibrant soundtrack and some very striking cinematography it’s a film that is very conscience of making a narrative that is emotional on every level. Not just from a narrative, social or historical angle, but this is a piece of art that is meant to really move audiences with not only the passion of the movement; both positive and negatively but also the conflicted emotions behind all the players involved.
Daniel Kaluuya is an unequivocal powerhouse on the screen here as Chairman Fred Hampton and he gives the full spectrum of emotion here. While the “wrong thing” would occasionally happen on his watch, he was always a part of the movement for the right reasons. Kaluuya gives us a charismatic and compelling community leader who gets pushed by the system around him into something that he just wasn’t at his core. We see Fred Hampton as a person and not as a face of a political party which can have some very different presentations depending on your perspective.
LaKeith Stanfield was fantastic as William O’Neal, a career criminal and FBI informant who got roped into the ideals of the movement and was ultimately tormented by his action while informing on the Black Panther party. Both Stanfield and Kaluuya could EASILY be up for some gold for both of their performances here.
On the other end of the spectrum, Jesse Plemons was quite good as the tortured FBI agent managing O’Neal and having to walk the line between upholding the law and enforcing the nefarious old political guard that wants to keep not only the black community in check but as many of the diverse communities that were coming up in America at the time. Martin Sheen rounds it out quite nicely in a short but terrifying turn as the infamous J. Edgar Hoover.
Judas & The Black Messiah is part impassioned bio pic, part crime thriller but is mostly a look at the humanistic and moral consequences of our actions and is a reminder that even when it is undeserved, every action has a consequence and a price.