IMDb Link: Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)
Director: Shaka King
Writers: Will Berson, Shaka King, Keith Lucas
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons
Synopsis: The story of Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and his fateful betrayal by FBI informant William O’Neal.
Something that I have been saying since the trailer dropped for Judas and the Black Messiah was that Daniel Kaluuya’s performance would be undeniable. An actor that has done so much over the past years and yet still seemed somewhat under the radar, it is impossible to ignore him here. Giving what is the best performance of this awards season, Kaluuya dominates the screen and takes every moment he can, making his message heard loud and clear.
Even with Kaluuya’s presence, it is hard to ignore the entire ensemble for this film. Lakeith Stanfield gives the performance of his career as he steps up as William O’Neal, a character that is incredibly complex, particularly with the lens that Shaka King places on him in this film. Another major stand out performance here is the one from Dominique Fishback, who has to carry the emotion of the film and help give the audience someone to personally connect with. It is incredibly powerful to see her throughout the film.
The perspective of this film is certainly interesting, as it is quite unconventional for a subject matter of this level. To have the story told through the eyes of an FBI informant, O’Neal, as he continually bounces between the Illinois Black Panther Party and the person he is reporting back to, could majorly backfire if not handled right. However, Shaka King handles the subject matter respectfully and makes sure that the story takes the forefront, not the people behind it.
This is a film that is incredibly sharp in so many aspects of filmmaking. The narrative is captivating itself, but it is elevated by the script that has a perfect balance of tone and structure. The editing helps bring that script to life, whilst also having fun with some of the cuts that are made. The production and costume design, as well as the strong visual effects and stunt work done, help sell the realism of the story and the world-building of 1969, particularly with the Black Panther office spaces.
There are numerous scenes throughout the film which may easily contend as some of the best of the year, and it is still only February. One scene in particular, in which I will simply quote “We are the revolutionary”, is so well done that I simply wish I was able to experience that moment in a crowd. It is not only perfect commentary on today’s situation and our current attitude, but something that will get any audience member going. It is exactly what we need to hear right now at this moment.
This film is aggressive and it is not afraid to loudly shout its message loud. In a year where we have had other films focusing on the Black Panther Party and the Black Lives Matter movement that celebrate change and progression, this one loudly says that not enough has been done. All the issues brought up in this film from 50+ years ago still impact us today, and the Black Panther Party still lives on and continues to fight. To have the images and subtext at the end of this film hit as hard as they do is because of the messages communicated throughout the entire film.
Quite simply, this is one of the most important films of the entire year. It can take a while to get used to the narrative style and looking through the eyes of William O’Neal, but it gives us a fantastic look into the life of Fred Hampton and shows all the work that he did, despite the pushbacks he had. Not only does this film have some of the best performances and editing of the year, it also has one of the most compelling stories and it is something that just cannot be ignored in this day and age.
Judas and the Black Messiah is expected to release in the UK on 26 February 2021.