Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★★

In this wild Oscar season, Shaka King’s late entry, Judas and the Black Messiah, is easily among the best of the field. Full of vibrant energy, this is revolutionary filmmaking that makes its fellow Oscar contender (and 1960s Chicago social justice period piece) Trial of the Chicago 7 look tame and lifeless by comparison. King’s screenplay is powerful, the cinematography is bold, and the central performances are outstanding. This is the stuff of a top-tier awards contender, for sure.

Daniel Kaluuya gives a stunning performance as Fred Hampton, and LaKeith Stanfield tackles a very challenging role of William O’Neal—providing an empathetic lens for the film’s titular Judas. The supporting cast, including the ever-reliable Jesse Plemons, are all solid... save a turn from Martin Sheen that felt a little awkward to me (but perhaps this is just because the role called for some awkwardness). 

The cinematography is another of the film’s strengths. Not knowing this was shot by Sean Bobbitt going in, I was drawn to the way the film looked like a Steve McQueen film, which made much more sense when I checked the credits and saw Bobbitt’s (Hunger, 12 Years a Slave, Widows) name on the roll. The camerawork, combined with the editing and music, really contributes toward establishing an effective tone for the film and enhances the strength of the performances.

Overall, Judas and the Black Messiah is one of the best films of the 2020 awards season... even though it’s a 2021 release. Man, this is such a confusing year. Regardless of the year, this one’s a winner.

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