FBI informant William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) infiltrates the Illinois Black Panther Party and is tasked with keeping tabs on their charismatic leader, Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). A career thief, O’Neal revels in the danger of manipulating both his comrades and his handler, Special Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons). Hampton’s political prowess grows just as he’s falling in love with fellow revolutionary Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback). Meanwhile, a battle wages for O’Neal’s soul. Will he align with the forces of good? Or subdue Hampton and The Panthers by any means, as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover commands?
After I had finished watching Judas and the Black Messiah this morning, one of my first thoughts was “Who directed this?”. I assumed it was some long-time acclaimed filmmaker such as Spike Lee or Barry Jenkins, but after I searched up who it was I was shocked. This movie was directed by Shaka King, and this is his second feature film. It’s so shocking because this film feels so authentic and so powerful and you would expect that kind of movie to be done by somebody with years and maybe even decades of experience. But King knows exactly what he is doing even if he hasn’t been working in the industry too long.
He has given us easily one of the best films of the year so far and one that may even get some awards consideration come next year. This is not an Oscar-bait movie, make no mistake about it. Judas and the Black Messiah is pure, one-hundred-percent lightning in a bottle. It’s a two-hour tension-filled thrill-ride that almost never gives you a true moment to breathe. You’re almost always in the middle of watching an intense situation unfold and it’s so difficult to watch at times because of some of the events depicted, but you can’t help yourself. It’s so well-written and it’s extremely relevant especially in today’s world.
I can definitely see this movie inspiring somebody out there to learn more about history, and this time in American history in particular. Growing up, I was taught a lot about Canadian history in school but we didn’t learn too much about American history as a class. In the years since my school years, I have done research on various different historical moments in the United States, and it has all fascinated me greatly.
But one of the most interesting topics in American history for me has always been the Black Panther Party. I’ve always wanted to learn more about who they are and how they came to be. Judas and the Black Messiah is an excellent way to learn more about them and how they operated in 1960s Chicago.
It boasts a razor-sharp screenplay that feels like it’s constantly moving, although the final act can be a little bit slowed down and it doesn’t feel as urgent or as invigorating as the two acts that precede it.
And even if you’re a little bit iffy about this movie and you’re not sure if you’ll enjoy it, I recommend you check it out just based on the lead performances alone. Daniel Kaluuya has quickly risen to be one of my favorite actors of this generation and it’s all thanks to his show-stopping performance as Chris Washington in Jordan Peele’s masterful Get Out. Since then, he has had prominent roles in Marvel’s Black Panther and Steve McQueen’s Widows. He’s on the trail to massive success and this movie further cements how truly wonderful he is. He commits everything to the role of Fred Hampton. He’s electrifying and commands the screen with every scene he is in.
Another Get Out actor who leads the cast here is Lakeith Stanfield who also gets a meaty and deeply powerful role as William O’Neal. Although he was certainly great in Get Out, I think that this may be his best work to date. Much like Kaluuya, he gives all he has to this role and it shines through.
For the past year or so, we haven’t been getting a whole wave of excellent films due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but thankfully we have been getting some truly amazing options in the past couple of months on streaming services. And right now, Judas and the Black Messiah is absolutely one of the most impressive movies you can watch right in the comfort of your own home.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: R for violence and pervasive language
Directed by: Shaka King
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: February 12, 2021
Running Time: 126 minutes