Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah

I liked it, but I felt it could have dived deeper into its lead characters if it didn’t feel the need to so strictly adhere to its biopic genre. Fred is actually on the sidelines for much of the film. What I really wanted to see depicted was the interior life of a 21 year old who knew he had the FBI on his back, with a pregnant girlfriend and a son on the way, leading a movement with worldwide recognition. What grown adult can handle that, let alone someone barely removed from their teenage years? Kaluuya is great, but I feel like everything I got from Fred Hampton here, I could have gotten from watching footage of the real-life Hampton. I also feel like the complexities of Bill’s unenviable position could have been explored more. Maybe it’s not a great sign that I’m fascinated more by the sole interview he gave, and would perhaps have preferred a fictionalised film about the day the interview aired on TV from his perspective. Still, his scenes with Plemons’ FBI agent might be the most engrossing of the film. While Bill has had to resort to impersonating an FBI agent to steal cars and survive a world that doesn’t care about him, Plemons’ agent has simply gobbled up everything he’s ever been told and become the real thing. Him handing Bill keys to a gas station as payment because he genuinely believes in the pull-up-your-bootstraps American Dream bullshit is an absolute gutpunch, Plemons completely naive that his privilege and steadfast, Gump-esque following of the rules made him an easily manipulatable government drone and the perfect person to defend white imperialism. I would have liked to see his reaction to Bill’s televised interview.

I guess even though the movie is well made and everything, I do feel like it missed a chance to be something truly great. Fred says that the difference between reform and revolution is that revolution is actually change, and reform is just cosmetic. The Black Panthers were about revolution, but Judas And The Black Messiah is closer to reform.

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