Brutal. Devastating. Damning. Shaka King delivers the best movie of the year.
Well. I can go ahead and save time writing up my Oscar predictions this year. If Judas and the Black Messiah doesn’t nab every damn statue, there should be riots in the street. The acting is phenomenal. The story is a power shot to the gut. The cinematography is superb. Shaka King delivers a complete package.
Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)
Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) infiltrates the Black Panther Party per FBI Agent Mitchell and J. Edgar Hoover. As Party Chairman Fred Hampton Daniel Kaluuya) ascends, falling for a fellow revolutionary (Dominique Fishback) en route, a battle wages for O’Neal’s soul.
Strength on Strength.
Every role in this film is thoughtfully constructed, and masterfully acted. Daniel Kaluuya brings Fred Hampton to life: his energy and charisma from the pulpit, his vulnerability and tenderness in private life. He’s matched every step of the way by great performances. Dominique Fishback moves you to tears. Jesse Plemons humanizes his role as O’Neal’s FBI handler, while not absolving his actions. Martin Sheen is unafraid to put J. Edgar Hoover’s malevolence on display for all to see. And Lakeith Stanfield…
Stanfield has a herculean task in portraying Bill O’Neal, such a flawed and fallible character. He really nails every facet. Instead of trying to muddle the character in shades of grey, he plays the highs high and the lows low.
The film as a whole fearlessly refuses to candy coat or varnish its story. The story itself is such a grand tragedy, it feels like a Martin Scorsese film come to life. Shaka King grounds the events of the film with documentary footage of key events and interviews with characters, mostly O’Neal. The script writers, Kenny and Keith Lucas, were so keyed in on the narrative that when they did stray from official records, it turns out they actually got facts right that weren’t available to them at the time!
No Justice, No Peace.
Judas and the Black Messiah is powerful filmmaking. It comes at just the right moment to hold up a mirror to American society. The civil rights struggle of the 60’s reflects back to us the struggles of our times: police brutality towards minorities, systems of racial inequality using the full might of the government to destroy people of color, social and financial inequality used as a bludgeon against whole communities.
Judas and the Black Messiah has a lot of tough questions to ask audiences. That it took 50 years for this story to get told in a mainstream format is quite an indictment against how America has grappled with justice and equality. That the same fires that consumed the country and necessitated a Fred Hampton are still raging 50 years after his assassination may just be the most damning indictment of them all.