Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★★

I think I've commented in a number of reviews on here that I'm not usually a big biopic fan. For two reasons: first, just because someone was important, that doesn't mean their life itself was actually interesting (and, in particular, cinematic); second, biopics often fail to take the rudimentary step of explaining why I should care about the person being depicted, why their life was actually important (moreso than anyone else's, anyway).

Well, say what you will about 1968/69 Chicago: you can't call it uninteresting. And the two figures at the heart of this movie were right at the center of those very interesting events. And it's sure cinematic: we see grand theft auto, arrests, shoot outs, scheming, interrogations, and the like. So, check one.

Does the film establish the importance of its central characters, and make us care about them? Absolutely. While the film doesn't make mention of the DNC protests (aside from a brief mention of Bobby Seale, and a reference to Daley's cops), it does reference the assassinations of King and Malcolm. The film expertly establishes that it's placing us in tremendously turbulent times, during a fierce fight for political, economic, and civic power. Free breakfasts. Schooling. Resisting police violence.

The movie was intelligent, confidently articulating the stakes of the movement and the reason people fought. It was also smart, I think, to pull back from explicitly showing Bill as a villain -- to instead show his conflict, the pressure he was under, and to, as he stated in his later interview, let history see it all and decide for itself. But aside from being smart, the film is also viscerally entertaining: it's full of well directed action sequences and amps up the tension in a number of great scenes.

It goes without saying that the acting is fantastic. Both Stanfield and Kaluuya are incredible. But I also want to highlight the more understated performance by Dominique Fishback. She impressed by enormously in David Simon's Show Me a Hero and later The Deuce. I hope she's got a bright career as a movie star ahead of her.

Black Directed Films: 2022

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