FILM: JUDAS & THE BLACK MESSIAH

February 20, 2021

RELEASED FEBRUARY 12, 2021

In “Judas and the Black Messiah,” Daniel Kaluuya gives an electrifying performance that raises the hairs on the back of your neck. As Fred Hampton, the murdered chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, Kaluuya is riveting as he prowls the stage inspiring his audiences. His speeches burn with intensity and conviction. When FBI informant William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), the Judas in the title, tells his handler Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) that Hampton “could sell salt to a slug,” it’s not hyperbole; Kaluuya makes you believe he’ll succeed in his mission to unite a “rainbow coalition” of people of all races against a common enemy. It’s stellar work that will be talked about for some time, and it buys a lot of goodwill for a film that has some serious script problems. (Review, Odie Henderson February 12, 2021, Rogerebert.com)

And it’s not just Kaluuya’s excellent work, it’s also Dominique Fishback as his girlfriend, Deborah Johnson. Their flirty back-and-forth results in a believable romance, made all the more bittersweet by our knowledge of how it will end. Fishback is so good, especially in her heartbreaking final scene, that you wish she had more screen time. (Review, Odie Henderson February 12, 2021, Rogerebert.com)

Director Shaka King’s latest film, Judas and The Black Messiah, aims to find a balance between appealing to the mainstream and representing the party’s radical ideals. The film centers around the FBI’s plot to weaken and ultimately kill Hampton in Chicago. Told through the dueling lenses of Hampton and Bill O’Neal, the informant recruited by the federal agency to infiltrate the Chicago chapter, the film intentionally reads more as a crime drama than a portrait of Hampton. In a recent interview with the Atlantic, director King frankly stated, “If you don’t give a fuck about the Black Panthers, or any history, you could still be like, ‘I kind of want to see that, though. Because I like The Departed.’ This is an incredibly commercial movie.” (Jessica Karlisa, Pitchfork.com, February 18, 2021)

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