ZombieTrex’s review published on Letterboxd:
Judas and the Black Messiah depicts two sides of the same story: Fred Hampton, a revolutionary who headed the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and William O’Neal, an FBI informant sent to infiltrate that very party. Rather than there being one main character, the two share the focus, and both of their characters are fully explored in this tragic story about coming together against oppression. The film takes its time to fully establish these characters, their relationships, and their motivations. We get to see Fred inspire hope in everyone around him, and how far he’s willing to go to achieve real change. We see Bill grapple with his deceitful actions, as he becomes more dedicated to the movement he’s meant to betray. Hampton and O’Neal are brilliantly brought to life through the efforts of Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield, who turn in career-defining performances as the titular characters. They completely transform into their roles and essentially become these characters.
Shaka King shows a clear passion for the material he’s working with and a desire to bring it to life in the best way possible. The film has a lot of very dark and soul-crushing moments that truly leave an impact on the audience. It is very upfront about showcasing brutal realities and tragic, real-life events. However, there are a lot of lighter moments in the film that help balance it out. They don’t necessarily use comedy, but they instead show scenes of comradery and family amongst the members of the party that help lighten the mood. The pacing of the film kept me fully engaged throughout, without a dull moment to speak of.
The technical aspects of this film manage to really impress. The cinematography is top-notch, and does a great job of conveying the emotions of each scene. There’s a shootout at one point in the film, but instead of being filmed like any action movie would film it, with quick cuts and constant motion, the way it's filmed here makes it feel real and impactful. The score was also great, with each track feeling unique and fitting their individual scenes well. I also want to bring attention to the use of real footage, which is utilized sparingly, but expertly. Without spoiling too much, the way the footage is used in conjunction with the text at the end leaves an immense emotional impact that stuck with me long after the credits rolled.
Judas and the Black Messiah is the first great film of 2021. It retells tragic, real-life events in a realistic and engaging way, without feeling compromised in any way. The characters, the performances, the writing, the cinematography, the music, and so much more all combine together to create an immensely powerful experience. It’s definitely a must-watch in terms of 2021 films, because at this point in the year, it doesn’t have much of anything to compete against. But even when more films come out as the year goes on, I imagine this will stay near the top of my ranked list.
Oh yeah, I finally made a year ranked list.