Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★★

A film about the powers that be stripping the agency of societal change from the inside and out. What could’ve been saccharine and soaked in the kind of “ra-ra-every little thing is gonna be alright” feel-good messaging that says “hey, we’ve come a long way from this” is realized with thudding brutality from all sides by director Shaka King and co-writer Will Berson. It posits how hopeless this crusade from racial and economic injustice is from the very beginning, the local police etch a few scratches into the Black Panther Party everyday and the FBI will stop at nothing to put them down by any means necessary, legal or otherwise. The cloud of dread never persists throughout Judas and the Black Messiah, which makes it continuously gripping. Yeah it’s familiar in it’s biographical drama structure, but the formula is concocted to it’s highest potential. Judas makes you believe in their cause, not just through showing how much the odds are stacked against them, but how well-realized Fred Hampton is as a character. There’s a hot-blooded rage and blind fury to his motivations and the film surrounding him, as all pushback is continuously dismantled.

Headlined by two tremendous performances, Daniel Kaluuya as Illinois Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton and Lakeith Stanfield as FBI informant Bill O’ Neil are what make this film sing to the highest falsetto. Kaluuya is stronger than steel supplemented with booming presence while being able to communicate the shaggy dog charisma one needs to completely entrap themselves in the role of an underdog leader wanting to flip the system for the betterment of the people. Bill works as a compelling foil, a weaselly car thief under the thumb of a white picket FBI Agent (Jesse Plemons, which if you needs another reason to dislike the FBI, here ya go) that can’t handle the mounting pressure coming his way. Stanfield is absolutely manic, jittering and jeering from his internal conflict like a time bomb ready to POP! At any given moment. 

A powerful tragedy, told with tenderness and believable camaraderie for the one’s involved that states with grimly realism that the fight for injustice won’t stop, but it’s important to stand up all the same.

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