Review of “Judas and the Black Messiah”

Over the past week, I had an opportunity to watch a film that initially had my skepticism due to its associations with Hollywood. This film details the history of Fred Hampton and the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers, and was announced to have an all-start caliber cast of actors and talent. Does it live up to the hype? Almost completely.

Let’s get something clear, this is not a 100% accurate portrayal of events, nor should you expect it to be. However, the majority of events does line up with what we know, and the picture painted is not one that supports the perspective of the FBI’s COINTELPRO operatives, either. Outside of this, I don’t want to discuss the story very much because I don’t think it’s something to relate in a review- nobody reading needs a summary of what happened, we know how this story ends. Instead, I want to focus on how standout both Daniel Kaluuya (who plays Fred Hampton) and LaKeith Stanfield (who plays Bill O’Neal) are in this film. These two performances may be the best of their careers, or at the very least right at the top. Both communicate such subtle nuance through their body language and manner of speaking alone that conveys so much of their characters, it’s almost unreal.

Much of the atmosphere this film provides feels completely fitting of the times, including the score and soundtrack which is emblematic of the time period. There are so many touches to this film that add to its authenticity, and add to its overall sense of tension that carries throughout its runtime. Combining these features is very impressive, and its sensitive handling really makes it feel as though this movie is a passion project of Shaka King’s. I noticed that a majority of the time, the camera is angled as though the audience is a member of the crowd, and therefore a member of Hampton’s revolutionary movement. Throughout most of the film, you feel as though you’re a part of the action, and seeing O’Neal’s interactions with the FBI feels almost voyeuristic and more omnipotent, as though you’re being given classified intel yourself, a stark contrast to how you feel seeing Hampton give speeches on the street. During a gunfight sequence, I felt the full amount of tension the scene delivered because of this emphasis on these characters- the stakes were, are, and felt real as presented in this film.

Is this film a masterwork of a movie? I don’t really think so, but there’s so much that it gets correct that I find it impossible not to recommend. Most of my negatives simply come from a place where I’m not sure how I would be able to fix them myself if I was in the director’s seat. It’s difficult to place my finger on them as well, but they are so minor that it’s not a full detracting factor. This will likely be one of the easiest recommendations for my movies of 2021, and it’s a captivating watch from start to finish even if there are so minor trips along the way. I give this film a very solid 8 out of 10.

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