Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★

It's a weird feeling that despite the poster placement here, Judas (William O'Neal) is much more front and center here than the Black Messiah (Fred Hampton, and yet, despite the fact that Stanfield is essentially the lead, with Kaluuya and Plemons as the two forces pulling him apart, we never get THAT much of a sense of why he makes the decisions he does -there's a sense that he's under great strain, sure, that he's not happy with his situation (Which, being blackmailed by the FBI --who would be?) but it's unclear how much of a true believer he is throughout the film, or how much he's simply trying to protect himself--to be fair, that ambiguity seems to be something the film is interested in, zeroing in on O'Neal with actual footage from the documentary Eyes on the Prize at the film's end, footage that has a hell of a kicker in the titles that come up after, but while that inescapable question mark is a laudible thing to consider, it also mires the film down as compellingly depressive (depressingly compelling?) viewing about how people let themselves get strung along into doing things they wouldn't otherwise do, and how power protects (white) power in America. The script doesn't really allow either O'Neal or Hampton (Kaluuya's very watchable, but it's so episodic--he's here, then he's gone, then he's back, then he's not) to breath as people rather than personalities. Minor miracle that this film exists in any form, really, but that makes the rough edges stand out all the more.

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