‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ Film Review

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As long as there is political unrest in the world, film will always have something to say about it. Last year, something happened that shook up the entire nation; the death of George Floyd. Most people saw it as a motivation to start an uprising that could have quickly gone out of hand, while there were others on the opposite side who thought that there were much worse things to worry about. Judas and the Black Messiah is a film that came at a time when such things were a matter of discussion. It has as big of a voice as the political leaders and the people have; it is political as political can be.

Judas and the Black Messiah stars Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield in what may be the best performances of their career. Kaluuya as Fred Hampton, the politically-outspoken chairman of The Black Panther Party, and Stanfield as FBI informant William “Bill” O’Neal, who is tasked with infiltrating the BPP. The film details the ultimate betrayal that happens later on. I never really knew much about the Black Panther Party other than the fact that they were a political African-American group, nor was I truly aware of Fred Hampton, yet I feel I learned so much more about the party and the people involved than I ever did after watching Judas and the Black Messiah.

The film starts off in 1968, showing O’Neal as a thief specializing in stealing cars, as he impersonates a federal officer. One night, after stealing a car from a gang leader, he is caught by FBI Special Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons), who gives O’Neal a chance to get his charges dropped if he ends up working as an informant to the FBI. His task? To infiltrate the BPP, whose chairman, Fred Hampton is considered to be “too dangerous” by the FBI and its director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen in heavy makeup), due to his politics and ability to stir up the Chicago Police Department. O’Neal agrees and finds himself caught up in the political and social ranks of the party, which in turn, makes him start to question where his loyalty lies.

Of course, true stories where someone going undercover in order to infiltrate a group is not new. We have dealt with it in the HBO movie Beyond the Law with Charlie Sheen, and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. Yet it is the captivation of the dialogue spoken by Hampton and the performance that Kaluuya portrays as this figure is what drives this movie. Judas and the Black Messiah is especially at its most harrowing during its climax, which I do not really want to give away if you don’t know what happens. All I can say is that it sticks with you in a big way.

Grade: A-

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