“Judas and the Black Messiah”

2 STARS

It’s a bummer when a film has an important historical story to tell but the finished product just isn’t very good. Such is the case with “Judas and the Black Messiah,” director Shaka King‘s take on the true story of charismatic Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) and FBI informant William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), the man who infiltrated the African-American organization in Illinois in the late 1960s. It’s an interesting account of true events about two very important figures in our nation’s history, and the racial justice issues are just as relevant today. But topical material doesn’t always result in an award-worthy (or entertaining) movie.

There are plenty of things to appreciate about the film’s execution, including King’s confident directorial style and the knockout lead performances from Kaluuya and Stanfield. Kaluuya has massive shoes to fill when portraying a real life man who was filled with so much insight and wisdom, and he fully embraces Hampton’s mannerisms and speech, creating a wholly realized vision (the actor himself becomes almost unrecognizable).

The script is the weakest link, which is rare when so many of the other elements combine to create a cohesive vision. King and Will Berson‘s co-authored screenplay is too complicated, resulting in a stagnant film that takes more than an hour to hit its stride. Everything is painfully slow until then, with Berson and King taking far too long to tell the story. You can feel the admiration here, but the reverence towards their characters is so high that it impedes them from driving the story forward.

There’s a horrifying scene that tells the end of Hampton’s life story, an awful and upsetting act of injustice at the hands of law enforcement. It’s just one of the things that makes “Judas and the Black Messiah” an important narrative for current times, when so many people of color are still fighting for equality. I just wish the storytelling had been tightened a bit.

By: Louisa Moore

5 comments

  1. How did a 2/5 stars review get a “fresh” rating on RT? You clearly disliked the film enough that this makes no sense.
    And yes, I did read your entire review.

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    1. RT isn’t a perfect system, and it’s up to the critic to decide the fresh or rotten. While the film had many problems, I thought it was skewed slightly fresh based on the strength of the performances.

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  2. I completely understand the reviewers rating, but for reasons completely nonmentioned here. Technically, and as a vehicle for drama, “Judas & the…”, is close to perfection. Which reminds one to note that the outstanding acting by the two leads (there are no supporting actors here until we meet Dominique Fishback and Jessie Plemons, who are both outstanding). In fact, the two leads are central to the story, the history, which should resemble the real lives of these central characters, or, reflect close to verity. It is no secret (if investigated) that Fred Hampton was only 19 years old at the time of his assassination, and Bill O’Neal, his betrayer, was even lesser of an adult, at the age of 17. Knowing these facts before seeing the movie would have been very problematic considering the casting of so many age inappropriate actors. Hence, the reveal after this excellent film ends, the jarring truth about the age of these two historically real-life people–characters–is so unsettling and confusing, that a reassessment becomes essential There is, sometimes, an aroma of vexation that crosses the line. And Judas and the Black Messiah certainly did that with the absurd altering of the characters date of birth. Clearly, the producers, the director wanted the best actors known to them, but this is ridiculous; in other words, why were outstanding actors, upcoming, undoubtedly, but equally gifted, not even auditioned (apparently)? Actors like Kelvin Harrison, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, Marcus Scribner, Abraham Attah, John Boyega, Caleb McLaughlin, and the amazing Stephan James (from ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’)., etc., etc.,

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