Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★½

Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield are two of the most talented and charismatic young actors in Hollywood, so it is no surprise that their outstanding performances are the highlights of “Judas and the Black Messiah”. They both command the screen, Kaluuya with his electrifying portrayal of the larger-than-life Black Panther activist Fred Hampton, and Stanfield with his nuanced portrayal of William O´Neal, the FBI informant who betrayed him. These two powerhouse performances are heart and soul of this compelling historical drama, which the Lucas Brothers pitched to producers by describing it as "The Conformist meets The Departed" (hard-hitting social commentary meets suspenseful undercover thriller).

“Judas and the Black Messiah” is insightful, thrilling, and infuriating. The most devastating aspect of the film is the realization that its themes such as injustice, oppression, abuse of power, corruption, and systemic racism are timelier than they should be. I didn´t learn anything about the Black Panthers in school (in Germany), so this depiction of their struggle was quite eye-opening for me.

Nevertheless, as riveting as it is, the film also has its flaws. It has a rather conventional biopic screenplay as well as some pacing and structure issues (especially the part that removes Hampton from the plot for a while), and while Kaluuya and Stanfield are phenomenal, I find their characters psychologically underdeveloped. They sometimes feel more like symbols and representations of ideas/concepts than real complex people. After this movie, I know what they stood for and what happened to them, but I don´t think I know who they were as persons. And the fact that the actors are much older than the characters they portray takes away a bit of the tragedy of this story (they were just kids). On the other hand, what elevates the script is Shaka King´s great direction, which is immersive and gripping, and creates a sense of raw authenticity.

All in all, I think that as a film, “Judas and the Black Messiah” is more important than it is truly “great”, but acting and direction are fantastic and overall, the movie succeeds in what it tries to achieve. It´s informative, exhilarating, and makes you angry for the right reasons.

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