Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★★

Very interesting how this film doesn't view government oppression in a strictly compartmentalised or binary manner, but instead suggests that the intricately engineered, long-game downfall of someone like Fred Hampton can only be the result of marshalling a broad spectrum of social and political persecution. Yet the drive behind this oppression (that is, the manner in which it is depicted), overseen by the elites, has no basis in reason, nor is it rooted in any earnest system of beliefs (political, spiritual or otherwise), but merely used as a multi-tool to retain some antiquated vision of conservative order, an age-old power structure that they know is crumbling. It's all a grift by those with the ability to mark the deck in advance. On that note, interesting that Martin Sheen's make-up as J Edgar Hoover makes him look, under those harsh lights, like zombie Steve Bannon. What made this work so well for me is that King does not play for easy dramatic or emotional wins, but deals instead with racism as something more institutionalised and insidious, like the rote part of a job (particularly with the police), or as an illogical creed that handily keeps working class factions at war. Maybe some will disagree on the extent of this, but it was also refreshing to see a studio film with unambiguously pro-socialist credentials, with Stanfield's William O'Neal as the tragic agent of capitalist greed/self preservation (delete as applicable, but I think King keeps that interpretation open), and Kaluuya's Hampton as an enlightened scion of socialist empathy (albeit with necessary revolutionary firepower). And when it comes to the squalid bleakness of this story, particularly its climax, no punches are pulled. My only real issue is that Fred's incarceration at the mid-point does diminish the energy somewhat. But another aspect that really worked well is how, despite the suggestion of the title, this isn't really a two-hander. The two leads maintain a respectable distance. They play off of each other, but in a cat-like manner. This again makes it feel as if King isn't pushing too hard to manipulate this true tale into something too intimate, too easy on the stomach. In the end O'Neal doesn't see who Hampton is, he sees what he is.

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