Alex Merchant’s review published on Letterboxd:
Not many movies based around real events have sparked emotional anger out of me- but Judas and the Black Messiah is such a powerful and poignant portrayal of horrible racial injustice that I found myself worked up thinking about the ways in which American institutions have directly failed its people, and only continue to do so.
While this film takes places in the late 60s, its themes are so relevant to modern American conflict that it can’t help but feel extremely timely. It chronicles the story of Fred Hampton- the young and charismatic leader of the Black Panther Party whose oration inspired the party’s members and propelled the group into a movement that appeared to the US government as a genuine threat. Hampton is portrayed here by Daniel Kaluuya, unquestionably one of the greatest modern actors. I’ve known he was one to watch ever since his unforgettable Black Mirror performance in 2011. It’s great to see Kaluuya continue to push himself and for this incredible portrayal he has went and won an Oscar.
Kaluuya captures the complexities and powerful speechmaking of Hampton, but equally impressive is the incredible performance of Laiketh Stanfield as Bill O’Neal, who infiltrates the Black Panthers as an FBI informant for his own self-interests. This espionage element not only leads to plenty of great moments of tension throughout the film, but provides us with an incredibly layered character. We see a conflicted O’Neal become friends with Hampton all while the FBI asks more and more of him, which boils over into a shocking and intense climax.
On a technical level this is a great film to experience too, with smart and clever cinematography and effective soundtrack. That prowess was clear from the very first trailer and immediately grabbed me in the first minutes before the story even had the chance to fully envelop my interest.
Judas and the Black Messiah is politically charged but not preachy- it doesn’t have to be. The events that unfold are shocking and angering, and show the systemic racism and corruption that plagues American law enforcement and government. One of the best biopics I’ve seen- this is a can’t-miss.