"Judas and the Black Messiah" stars Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, and Martin Sheen. Released on February 12, 2021, the film is about a criminal who the FBI tasks to take down the Black Panther Party's chairman.
The film is directed by Shaka King, who also directed "Newlyweeds". Don't you hate it when someone close to you stabs you in the back? I'm pretty sure the Black Panther Party chairman knew the answer after he got murdered in his sleep thanks to someone he trusted. This weekend sees me continue my journey to watch as many nominees as possible before the Golden Globes later this month. My next stop is a film that surprisingly didn't make a huge splash at the Golden Globes and the Critics' Choice Awards. This was a huge surprise because it made its way into the top ten list from the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review. That usually indicates a one-way trip to the major awards ceremonies. Sure, it got some award recognition for Daniel Kaluuya's performance, but for something that offers some timely race-related themes, it should've gotten more. Still, that shouldn't mean it should go by unnoticed. Initially scheduled for a 2020 release, the film had to settle for a 2021 simultaneous release in theaters and on HBO Max to compete in this year's awards season. As usual, I decided to rely on HBO Max because, again, the coronavirus is still affecting my theater-going schedule. Similar to my experience with "The Trial of the Chicago 7", I was unfamiliar with the story the film's based on until I saw the trailer for it and did some research on it. I'm willing to believe that this was another part of racial history that the ones involved don't want us to know for selfish reasons. If that's true, then it looks like we're going to be in for a treat. The question is, is the film powerful enough to tell this story? Let's find out.
Set in late 1960s Chicago, the story follows William "Bill" O'Neal (Stanfield), a criminal who goes around committing heinous acts like stealing cars. One day, while O'Neal was attempting to make a getaway, he was immediately taken in by Roy Mitchell (Plemons), an FBI agent. He convinces O'Neal to work for the agency as an informant in exchange for having his felony charges dropped. O'Neal's mission is to infiltrate the Black Panther Party as one of its members and secretly take down its chairman Fred Hampton (Kaluuya). The events that were portrayed in the film resembled a tragic tale of betrayal and revolution. More importantly, they represented race-related topics that accurately reflect our society's current state, such as police brutality and racial injustice. Not only was the film worthy of our attention in terms of its themes, but it was also a thought-provoking and fascinating account of the unexpected fall of a revolutionary. While there were a couple of moments that could've been expanded a bit more, such as the first act, the film's story managed to keep things captivating and emotional by showcasing its complex characters, a lively score, and its undeniable display of energy. In addition to the fantastic cast on screen, the film showcased Shaka King as a filmmaker who was determined to show this story to the world and send a clear message to those who are still committing these disgusting acts today. I'm glad to say that he accomplished that mission with ease. His dynamic sense of direction and an award-worthy script put King on the right path to become another filmmaker who speaks the truth through the art of film. Daniel Kaluuya delivered one of his best performances of his career as Fred Hampton. The best way I can describe Hampton based on my experience is that he had the heart of a leader and the soul of a preacher. Whenever he goes up to give one of his lively speeches, I couldn't help but pay attention to what he had to say because of his voice and his delivery. Kaluuya happened to replicate that character's heart and soul perfectly, making him a formidable competitor to beat during this year's Oscar race. Lakeith Stanfield was also fantastic in his role as William O'Neal, a criminal turned informant who happened to find his beliefs challenged. A worthy actor who unfortunately didn't make the cut in the Golden Globes and the Critics' Choice Awards. He was utterly stellar in the film. The film's screenplay did its part in allowing the main characters to have the same amount of focus as one another. The film barely shows the relationship between the two, but it had enough substance in their character development to make me care for them.
Overall, "Judas and the Black Messiah" sparks a revolution in all the right ways. It's a provocative and gripping piece of Black History filmmaking that dares to share the truth and asks us to stand up against injustice. Thanks to some strong performances, King's direction, its relatable themes, and a superb screenplay, it deserves a spot as one of my favorite films of 2021 so far. I can see why Kaluuya was nominated, but based on what I've seen, I believe it should've gotten some nominations for the direction and screenplay as well. But hey, that's just how I feel about the situation. It's worth watching either in theaters or on HBO Max if you're a fan of historical dramas.