Keith Adams Jr.’s review published on Letterboxd:
From producer Ryan Coogler, director of Creed and Black Panther, from the producers of Fences, Sorry to Bother You and Just Mercury and from director Shaka King comes this powerful and timely true story that’s also Warner Bros’ 3rd hybrid release with it playing in theaters nationwide and at home on HBO Max until March 4th, after which it’ll remain in theaters only until its wide summer physical and digital media releases. The story follows William O’Neill (Lakeith Stanfield), a petty car thief who’s picked up by the FBI and recruited by agent Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) and controversial director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) to go undercover in the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers and their leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) welcomes him into the organization. As Hampton brings together other organizations to create a rainbow coalition dedicated to pushing against oppression and fascism targeting the most vulnerable while falling for a fellow revolutionary (Dominique Fishback), O’Neill faces a internal conflict in himself as he’s torn between supporting the efforts of the Panthers and reluctantly reporting back to Mitchell. There are many takeaways from this film. First, the fate of Fred Hampton....since this is a fact-based story, this is not exactly a spoiler....was an act of politically and racially motivated aggression by the FBI. Let’s be honest about that. The government didn’t want anyone to believe that they were doing good deeds for the black community like providing penicillin and offering a lunch program for kids so they let them see the other side and Hoover with his prejudiced self made others believe that they weren’t doing the right thing and speaking of Hoover, this is my second takeaway. Second, Hoover is a racist punk of a human being who ordered a black man to be shot and killed in his home while he was sleeping and I hope he’s down below, not up above (no disrespect to Martin Sheen, who stands for everything that Hoover stood against like equality and civil rights). Anyway, this is a film that America and the world needs to see. It’s a powerful story that’s riveting, timely, relevant to the topics that were still having conversations about now, anger-inducing and thought-provoking, woven together by superb performances by its cast with high marks going to Kaluuya, Stanfield and Fishback. Meanwhile, the exceptional cinematography by Sean Bobbitt fits the movie perfectly and King’s direction is absolutely brilliant, achieving solid symbiosis between director and cinematographer. Whether at a CinemaSafe theater or at home, Judas and the Black Messiah is the first must-see film of 2021 and an informative watch for those wanting to see a chapter in the history of the Black Panther Party. Also, in case you didn’t notice, there’s a biblical meaning to the title. William O’Neill was the Judas of the Black Panther Party and the Black Messiah was Fred Hampton, who was seen as a savior to those in the black community. In short, O’Neill was Judas and Hampton was Christ. Make of that what you will.