Judas and the Black Messiah

Daniel Kaluuya's got that Oscar in the bag!
Verdict: 
7/10 - Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield give awards-worthy performance in this powerful biographical drama
Release Date: 
Thursday, March 11, 2021
Written by: 

Lakeith Stanfield plays an FBI informant who infiltrates Fred Hampton's chapter of the Black Panther Party in this biographical drama.

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Daniel Kaluuya recently won the Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe and Critics' Choice Award for his portrayal of Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah - and now you can check the performance out for yourself.

Shaka King's movie depicts the latter years of Hampton's life in the '60s, and how Bill O'Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), a petty criminal at risk of going to jail, was recruited by FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) to work as their informant and infiltrate the Panthers to help them take down Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the party.

The film should have been a proper biopic about Hampton because this small snapshot of his life never gave us a real insight into who he was as a person.

We just see him through O'Neal's eyes and he was never inside Hampton's inner circle, so we never get to know him in any real, personal way.

In this film, Hampton is mostly seen given rousing preacher-style speeches to large crowds and while they are fascinating to watch, there needed to be more scenes where that public persona is stripped away and Hampton is just Hampton.

We get some intimate moments depicting his relationship with his girlfriend Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback) but these are underdeveloped.

 

There's no denying that Kaluuya delivers an awards-worthy barnstorming performance as the chairman - but his casting is all wrong.

At 31, he's 10 years older than Hampton was when he was killed. It would have been even more impactful and emotionally devastating if the actor portraying him was closer to his true age. Not casting actors of the right age means the audience doesn't fully grasp the gravity of the situation.

Like Kaluuya, Stanfield gives a strong performance too. He's our window into the world of the Black Panthers and he brings such humanity, regret, and vulnerability to a part that could have easily been a straightforward villain character.

Plemons also deserves praise for being so good at playing the bad guy while Fishback should be recognised for injecting as much heart and soul into Johnson as the screenplay allowed.

Although the pace is a little slow, Judas and the Black Messiah tells a powerful and shocking story that still resonates today, but it focused too much on the historical events and hitting the beats of what happened to let us get to know the characters, who really needed more depth in order for the audience to form any sort of connection with them.

Despite all this, the film should still be watched because of the important events it depicts.

Available to rent at home on premium video-on-demand platforms now.

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