Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah

It's a bummer that Judas isn't asking deeper questions, either emotionally or ideologically. I got more resonance out of the epigraph cards and IRL talking heads before the credits rolled than I did from most of the film, which is hamstrung by bullet-point storytelling like so many other historical biopics in its weight class. None of this takes away from a luminous performance by Kaluuya or the gorgeous cinematography and visual design, but then again we also have Martin Sheen in about twenty pounds of monster makeup, as though J. Edgar Hoover wasn't already ghoulish enough.

What's left in the sieve for me are a handful of great scenes, especially the one where our Judas, William O'Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), receives his thirty pieces of silver: a few crumpled bills and the key to a gas station in an outlying Chicago suburb. For the cost of selling out everything he has come to believe in, O'Neal receives the fabled American bootstrap with which to pull himself up, while his po-faced FBI handler (Jesse Plemons) explains that there's steady money in gasoline. Stanfield's performance is the less showy of the two leads, but in that moment, via body language alone, you can see this man's soul crumple and die.

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