Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★½

Harrowing and at times unflinching portrayal of Fred Hampton that doesn’t sugarcoat his leftist politics nor his assassination at the hands of the state and Chicago police department. Its depiction of violence is unglamorous and it is also unambiguous in its depictions of state violence towards black liberation. Shaka King has crafted a film that honors the Black Panther Party and their struggle, effectively rooting us in their POV, and Kaluuya's portrayal of Hampton only further underscores the tragedy of losing him so young. I wish though the O’Neal material clicked with me more or supported the narrative more strongly. It doesn’t really start to come together until the very end and by then I think we spend too much time disconnected between O’Neil and Hampton to make it feel like his entry into the party was the most effective way of illustrating this story. For that, to work I think we needed a greater sense and of O’Neal’s relationship to other members and that feels somewhat absent or glossed over making that storyline feel oddly impersonal and doesn’t carry much cat and mouse tension or weight anyways. I understand why King took that approach and I think there is a version of this that would use that to really illustrate state manipulation and control (which is somewhat touched on here). But, the movie doesn’t feel fully committed to that sort of story creating a middle road that isn’t quite Hampton’s story and not quite O’Neal’s which dilutes some of the narrative momentum and impact. But, in spite of that, it is a testament to the Hampton material that this movie still works and can pack a raw punch in its closing moments. In any case, this will serve as many people’s introductions to Fred Hampton and for that, it is quite good and accessible and ultimately more honest than you could expect from a Hollywood film. The Hampton material is great but the O’Neal material is a mixed bag and they aren’t always interwoven cohesively in a way that invites strong comparison or drama. So, I’m quite split, I think all in all the movie is greater than the sum of its parts and is a net-positive. They got the important stuff right and comes across as a really genuine production. I'm glad Fred Hampton is getting the spotlight and getting the spotlight for the right reasons.

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