Libby Caldwell’s review published on Letterboxd:
This finally came out in cinemas here yesterday and I couldn’t have been anticipating it more. When it ended I felt kind of confused, I was so overwhelmed with emotion and yet, completely and utterly speechless. I was feeling so many things but couldn’t find any words to describe them.
I knew it was a 5/5 movie but I was almost scared to write my review straight away. I knew that no matter what I’d never be able to adequately convey the feelings Judas and the Black Messiah left me with. This film is beautiful, angry, raw and full of passion. It is without a doubt the best movie I have seen in the past year, and deserves every award it is nominated for. It’s subtle when it needs to be, and powerful when it needs to be. Shaka King demonstrates meticulous control over its tone, subjects, pacing and message. There are a few aspects of this film in particular that I want to talk about so I’ll work through them one by one.
First of all, I love how this movie actually looks like it’s filmed in the time that it’s set. This is mostly due to how great the production, set and costume design is. I don’t know if this makes sense but it’s one thing to make a movie fit an aesthetic but it’s another to make those aforementioned aspects so well integrated and realistic to the time period that the audience doesn’t even really notice them.
I must talk about Daniel Kaluuya. I believe the last (and only other) movie to leave me speechless was Queen & Slim. I’m a massive fan of this guy. It’s extremely rare to watch a film and have the actors truly disappear into their characters, where you don’t see actors anymore and it feels like you’re watching the actual characters and their lives. It is even more rare when those actors are well-known and they play other characters in films you love. However, that is exactly what Daniel achieved for me in Judas and the Black Messiah, and I think it is honestly the highest praise I could ever give an actor. He deserves every award for this performance, as one this good as doesn’t come around very often. As a side note, it may be because I’m from England/Australia but his American accent is impeccable for me, I still don’t believe it when I hear his normal voice.
LaKeith Stanfield is amazing as well. His character is complicated and full of nuance. It would be unbelievably easy to mess this up, or get it almost right and yet he somehow pulls off the perfect balancing act with it and hits all the right notes.
I love the rhythm of this film. Not just the music, although that is great, the rhythm of the camera, the dialogue and in some regards, the staging. This is a personal thing, and I’m not sure how popular of an opinion this is, but I really like it when a movie sort of feels like a play in a way. And the way the framing of Judas is, is exactly like that.
I feel like I could go on forever so I’m going to round this review off and say that it’s tense, visceral and as close to perfect as I think a movie can get. Its runtime flies by and I don’t really like using this word when talking about films but I feel like this one genuinely is important to see. One of the best I’ve ever watched.