Nate_Cburn’s review published on Letterboxd:
Sundance 2021 Film NO. 17
Judas And The Black Messiah might not do a whole lot to push the envelope in storytelling, it sure does make up for it in performances and pure power. This film delivers so many messages that are important in today’s age and climate. But just like the character we follow for the majority of the story, William (LaKeith Stanfield), the lines are blurred and it’s hard to decipher where we fall.
I just want to say right off the bat, the issues portrayed in the film are very much still at large today, making it hard to tread through films like these today. I think that’s what makes this film so powerful. Right from the opening of this movie, you understand the situation and you understand where Fred Hampton (portrayed wonderfully by Daniel Kaluuya) stands in it.
Let’s talk about Kaluuya. This is one of those performances that sits with you. I can still hear his chants, his rally crys, and I can still see his piercing gaze. His performance is electric and will leave you moved. It’s not a performance that really has an arc, but that’s not really the purpose of his character. He’s there to be loud, be eccentric, make us feel the power of this group. And he does, it great! It’s phenomenal!
Stanfield plays us in this movie, allowing us to weave between the Panther’s world and the fed’s world. He gives a fantastic performance as well, but there’s a bit of lost time I feel. There’s a good chunk of the movie where instead of focusing on either of these two actors, mainly concerning Stanfield, it rather focuses on the Black Panther party as a whole. We as an audience for one, can kind of start to forget that Stanfield is a rat, and two, we can start to lose attachment to his character. I know I did at least. That’s what makes The Departed great. Sitting with these characters, watching their subtle performances as they forcefully do these things they morally don’t agree with. And there’s some of that here, but there’s just a good chunk, a potentially important chunk, where we don’t get to sit with Stanfield and just watch. But that’s okay, because he still crushes this performance, I just think it’s an issue with the screenplay. Because at the end of the day, when shit hits the fan, when tragedy strikes, I still found myself wrapped up in his arc...just not as much as I could’ve been.
Shaka King absolutely kills it with the direction. He should absolutely be nominated for Best Director this year. He created some really intense moments and he handled the action sequences really well. But he truly shines with the monologues. He knows right where to put the camera, how long to hold, when to push. It really makes you feel the power of these speeches. Then, with the help of his editor, they make just the right cut when necessary, and don’t cut when it isn’t needed. Really great work, can’t wait to see more from him.
Judas And The Black Messiah may have missed with me emotionally, but it still really shocked me. I got wrapped up in these characters, good or bad. The story is captivating, it’s just not told in a captivating way. All the performances, even the supporting cast, are all great! This is a film with some weight behind it. This film is going to move people. It’s got one story to tell...but it’s got a hell of a lot of things to say.