Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★★★

"I believe I'm gonna die doin' what I was born for! I believe I'm gonna die high off the people! I'm gonna die for the people, cause I live for the people!"

A stunning cinematic achievement across the board, Shaka King's powerfully monumental 'Judas and the Black Messiah' works wonders in bringing the final days of the Black Panther Party's Illinois Chairman Fred Hampton to the screen, his close relationship with girlfriend Deborah Johnson and the uncertain loyalties of Bill O'Neal, the FBI informant who would eventually be responsible for leading Hampton to his death.

It's electrifying in its performances, with noteworthy applause to Daniel Kaluuya for his eerily accurate portrayal of Hampton (his voice and mannerisms could not be more spot on) and Lakeith Stanfield for his external vision of the internal battle that O'Neal endured. It's a film with great heart and courage that's both topical and relevant today while also a very, very tough watch at times.

The camerawork is sublime, masterful. There's one shot where O'Neal, in his new, FBI-acquired vehicle, cruises up to a spot to pick up Hampton and a few other Panthers. The camera is locked into the driver's side door, following him the entire way, but detaches and pans, following the car as it proceeds to drive off. It's a simple, inconsequential moment but the decision to make such a small shot feel so unique and technically planned really did stand out to me. This unrestrained, almost manic camerawork is evident throughout the entire film - the camera also sometimes slowly locks back onto a character who is shouting or moving their way out of the frame. It's the little details and shots like this that add up to a wholly unique and visionary experience, among all the other phenomenal aspects and design choices that help make this film such a powerhouse.

The score by Craig Harris and Mark Isham is equally tremendous, sometimes jazzy and fervently beautiful and other times foreboding and simplistic, with a few piano keys or some low bass line filling a scene. It's emotional when it needs to be, intense when it requires, and doesn't overstay its welcome, letting some scenes play out quietly when King wants the dialogue to be the focus. However, he's no stranger to elevating a romantic moment or a sinister gaze with a few magical notes that are exactly what's required.

There really isn't much to say about this film that it hasn't been lauded and praised for already - it's a remarkable masterpiece in so many ways, a crucial and necessary film for our time, and an early must see, award season darling that will hopefully not be overlooked. Kaluuya and Stanfield give some of the biggest, most full-of-life performances of their career and King's ability to stack the crew with so many talents and experts, alongside insight from Hampton's own family, makes 'Judas and the Black Messiah' one of the greatest films of the year, surely.

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