Austin Burke’s review published on Letterboxd:
The story of Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and his fateful betrayal by FBI informant William O'Neal.
This is a film that will resonate for all sorts of reasons. Obviously the story is important, impactful, and heartbreaking. The filmmaking will leave its mark because of how everything looks and that feeling the screenplay evokes. The score is actually quite memorable as well. The clear focus of most of the praise you will see for the film comes because of the performances. LaKieth Stanfield continues to prove himself. The man still doesn’t get the respect he deserves, as he brings the subtleties necessary to play Bill. From a writing standpoint, I believe Bill could have used even bit more display of emotion, but Stanfield crushes nonetheless. Then we have Daniel Kaluuya who has just cemented his status as one of the best in Hollywood right now.
This is it. This is the performance that will knock even the naysayer’s socks off and get him his Oscar. Unless I see a last second surge from another actor, Best Supporting Actor is his to lose. He embodies Fred Hampton, who is someone that I was excited to learn more about. While I would have liked to have seen more of “why” he was regarded as one of the most charitable men in his community (they mention but rarely show), what we see him do and say is more than enough to buy what we hear in the film. My main criticism is that the restraint on the story itself may cause the film to be less impactful for some. The intensity is built up well throughout, but it lacked one or two more pulse-pounding moments to bring it all home. The second act is where you start to feel that restraint, and it may even compromise its pacing.
These are all complaints that do not keep this from from being an excellent film because what works here is good enough to outweigh all of the negatives. More than anything, this is an emotional experience. This is also a difficult story to nail, and Shaka King feels like the only person who could have handled it in such a tender yet riveting way. That is such a tough balance to get right. To give us a character in Bill who is dealing with both sides of this fight, and to showcase that moral conflict in a way that makes us feel for him, is tough for any Director. Thankfully, his cast did their job so well, and the film’s cinematography, editing, and score only add to the experience. Judas and the Black Messiah is not only a great movie, but it is an impressive accomplishment for this writing team
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