Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★★

There’s an amazing scene in this movie where Kaluuya gives an incendiary speech, his accent and charisma fully on point. The camera also captures the mixed feelings on the faces of Stanfield, as his “Judas,” and Dominique Fishback, listening to the father of her unborn child embrace the probability of his own death. It’s one of the more impressive sequences in a really powerful picture. 

Before seeing this, I heard a podcast discussion about how the focus on the Jesse Plemmons character shifts the subject from institutional oppression to the ‘bad apple’ theory of law enforcement. I don’t agree. The movie makes clear that he’s part of a broader, national strategy, just one actor on a larger team, all being headed by J. Edgar Hoover. The Plemmons character shows moments of moral conflict, but he seems to get over them and get in line mighty fast. 

The attention on Kaluuya is fully deserved. I particularly loved his understated scene with Alysia Joy Powell as the mother of a murdered Panther. But it again leaves Lakeith Stanfield as one of our most underrated actors. From his sensitive work in Short Term 12 and Come Sunday to his hilarious stoner on Atlanta and his subtler comic delivery in Sorry to Bother You, his range astounds me. Here, he’s a person slowly developing a political consciousness and destroying himself in the process. He brings out the genuinely tragic depths of a character who’s both a pawn and a backstabber. 

Much respect is due to Shaka King for making this dramatization feel honest. There’s really only one scene that hit me as patently Hollywood, and it was relatively short.

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