Awards Season Movie Review: Judas and the Black Messiah

judas and the black messiahIn the Summer of 1969, 4 years after the assassination of Malcolm X, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) is a rising star in the Black Panther Party, having quickly made his way to chairman of the Illinois chapter on the strength of his ability to inspire and organize other like-minded people. Of course those same strengths would make him an obvious target for those who stood against the principles he espoused, most notably J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen). It is under his orders that FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) recruits car thief William “Bill” O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) to infiltrate the organization to get close to Hampton and provide intel. O’Neal hadn’t been the type of person to become involved in anything political, but becomes closer to the movement and its members as a result of being forced to interact with them, leading to ever-greater inner turmoil as the FBI asks more and more of him at the same time the actions of the Chicago Police are causing increasing tensions with the Panthers and other poorer communities in the area. With this, his second feature film, writer/director Shaka King has shown himself to be more than capable of handling such a large, sprawling story. Fred and Bill are compelling, well-developed characters, with both actors excelling in their roles. Daniel Kaluuya is especially impressive in the showier of the two, making it easy to believe how Fred Hampton got so many to follow him after his fiery speeches. Though Lakeith Stanfield’s portrayal of Bill’s anguish over being forced to lead a double life is also noteworthy, and really helps to drive the suspense as the two men’s fates are sent hurtling towards a tragic, foregone conclusion. The movie handles its subject matter well, highlighting social issues that are unfortunately still very much with us today. A riveting film, that will give you a lot to think about long after it has ended. ★★★★★ – Sean Farrell

In theaters and available on HBO Max through 3/14

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★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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