Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★½

The way people let throwing around words like “electric” and “perfect”, I was expecting much more from this. Instead, it came across to me as just an a above average film with amazing performances, which for a biopic is still quite an accomplishment.

Loving Kaluya, as the revolutionary Hampton, and Plemons, perfectly cast as the FBI agent slowly being corrupted by the system for which he works, I still have to say Stanfield is the stand out. His laconic demeanor as a man without convictions, between worlds- only motivated by money, is magnetic. Over the course of the film he has no clear change of allegiance and his performance shows it. It’s all just a slow decent to capital corrupts idealism. No matter how convicted you might be, there’s always the greedy system surrounding you ready to pull you down.

With taut direction and the occasionally firecracker dialogue, this was certainly better than some other recent biopics about black rights. Its a much more clear eyed criticism of police and the place of the black man in modern America than either of Spike Lee’s recent features. The neoliberal ideology maybe present within the film’s trappings, but that’s usually expected from a studio feature.

However, this was still a biopic and it could’ve absolutely used some more inventive filmmaking throughout. Hampton was only 21 when he was killed yet this drags so much, it feels like we’re watching a decade unfold. I actually was the most interested by the documentary aspects bookending the film and kinda wish they played around with melding fact and fiction a bit more.

While this may not be on the level of Malcom X, it’s still a fine biopic and a good indictment on individual responsibility in the face of a revolution. (And finally a good movie released straight to HBO Max!)

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