Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★★

It's seems way too early in 2021 to be getting this type and quality of film. This is powerful stuff covering real and difficult subject matter, and overall it is a success. I'm the first to criticise films for unnecessary length, but I felt here there could have been a little more time spent on character development early on. The energy of the actors and the film in general masks a lot of the need for this, but it does slip every now and then, especially when chasing sympathy towards the end.

Just behind the story itself, the acting is the strongest selling point here. Daniel Kaluuya is absolutely spot on with his portrayal of Fred Hampton. Despite being a decade older than Hampton at the time of his death, Kaluuya projects the youthful verve and vigor of the revolutionary, as well as the confidence and conviction that leads to someone so young doing so much. Kaluuya's talents are well known to most now, but this might be the role that sends him to the top of the Hollywood heap.

Lakeith Stanfield, as petty criminal turned FBI-informant William O'Neil, is the nominal lead of the film and is called on to do most of the nitty-gritty. Stanfield has great screen presence and I'd be happy to see him in more big lead roles, but there were times, often in crucial moments, where I wasn't overly convinced by him. Nonetheless, his work is strong enough to make O'Neil something of a tortured, tragic figure, which I think will come across stronger on repeat viewings.

Elsewhere, it's an extremely strong supporting cast with Dominique Fishback probably the most memorable as Hampton's girlfriend Deborah Johnson. Even Martin Sheen, under distracting makeup, is decent as J. Edgar Hoover.

Every aspect of the film is on a really high level, and it's all held together by an impressive Shaka King, a name I hadn't heard before. Crucially, there's a lack of judgement here; O'Neil's actions are depicted as a moral dilemma brought on by a system that is working against him and his people. That and knowing the fate of Hampton, left me as the viewer with a helpless, forlorn feeling; but with better knowledge and appreciation for the time, events and people depicted. Which is exactly what a great biopic should do.

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