Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★★

A riveting, furious pressure cooker of a film that is steeped in tragedy without necessarily centering its story on those historical events. It's very much a character driven thriller, both emotionally piercing and thematically complex, and it's also brilliantly directed, edited, and shot - I especially love Sean Bobbitt's work here, who brings a similar sort of sleek and gritty blend to the look that he did in Widows. Shaka King's filmmaking is bold and powerful, and he does a remarkable job of ensuring that the film feels propulsive and intimate even as he's dealing with larger than life historical figures and long time periods.

The one flaw that prevents this from reaching that 4.5 is in fact the character work - as strong as it is for Fred, William O'Neal's journey feels a bit shortchanged in the process. I understand wanting to ground someone like Fred Hampton for the purposes of this narrative, but O'Neal's journey is so fascinating and ripe with complexity and contradictions that it feels like a missed opportunity not to flesh out his character more. By the end of it, we understand the grueling internal conflict at play on the surface, but we still don't truly go deeper than that. Nevertheless, Stanfield and Kaluuya give towering performances here, and even if the character work isn't fully there, they understand exactly what the audience needs to be feeling at every single moment. This is a really impressive film all around, and I'm not sure that the slew of Black Panther projects in development right now will be able to top the emotional potency of this one.

GRADE: B+

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