In Brief: This biopic about a Black Panther leader from the 1960s is a fascinating film featuring exceptional acting.
Judas and the Black Messiah is an exceptional and thought-provoking movie based on real life events. The black messiah is Fred Hampton. In the late 1960s Hampton headed the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. He was a Marxist and founded the famed Rainbow Coalition. The goal of the coalition was to do away with racism, poverty for people black and white, substandard housing and schools, political corruption and police brutality.
Hampton’s reform preaching also included revolution, the use of violence and suggestions to kill cops.
So it is no surprise that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover — who saw conspiracy everywhere in those days — deemed Hampton a threat to national security. Considering the rhetoric Hampton pushed at his awed followers, and the content of that rhetoric, his philosophy was a definite threat to the status quo.
Judas and the Black Messiah tells Hampton’s story and that of the FBI informant whose reports from the inside proved to be the man’s undoing. It’s a riveting biopic brilliantly written by writer-director, Shaka King and acted by a cast that includes Daniel Kaluuya and Laketh Stanfield.
Kaluuya was superb in Get Out and Queen & Slim and those films made him a star. This movie puts him on the map as one of his generation’s best actors. He is nothing short of hypnotic in the role of Hampton. It’s the style of oratory a lot of us thought David Oyelowo should have given when he starred as Martin Luther King in Selma in 2014.
His use of words and style of delivery is so eloquent, deep, and profound, and so right on about justice and hope for the people that you want to leap out of your seat and raise your arms and give the Black Panther salute.
To put it in a nutshell, Kaluuya is electrifying.
Bill O’Neal is a caught-in-the-act car thief. O’Neal is a shallow, conflicted man who is frightened of five-years in the slammer. Coerced by the FBI, and to stay out of jail, he turns informant and becomes willing to rat out Hampton.
Laketh Stanfield (The Photograph) plays O’Neal. Guilt punctuates his performance. O’Neal is pushed, prodded and manipulated by FBI agent, Roy Mitchell. Primetime Emmy nominated Jesse Plemmons (Black Mirror, Fargo, The Irishman) does Mitchell.
At first he plays Mitchell as a man doing what he must do to protect the country. As the plot progresses, Mitchell is more unsure and Plemmons gives his character a guilty edge.
Martin Sheen is excellent as J. Edgar Hoover and plays him as power hungry and paranoid. Mitchell isn’t quite sure of J.Edgar’s tactics and his reasoning for putting a halt to Hampton’s message —permanently. However, like others caught in the FBI director’s web, Mitchell does it anyway.
In contrast, O’Neal buys into Hampton’s philosophy. He sees the man as a savior and not a villain. At the same time, O’Neal is worried about jail. Caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, O’Neal takes the easy — but unforgivable — road.
That road and the decisions he makes are the wrong ones for the wrong purpose.
Stanfield’s troubled acting is as good as his co-star’s. The contrast in characters and the characteristics of those characters is the best part of King’s movie. He also does an incredible job of putting you into the 1960s and the troubles of the times.
Judas and the Black Messiah is also a fascinating view of events in the past that are relevant today. Some of today’s leaders are using the same social justice statements uttered by Hampton. I suspect that’s part of the purpose of King’s movie.
The movie subtly points out that not much has changed in the last 50-some years. Hampton’s message — as the Rainbow Coalition showed — was not just meant for the African American community. He included all.
Fred Hampton was 21 years old when he was — some say — assassinated by the FBI and the Chicago police. Judas and the Black Messiah makes you wonder what this young man might have accomplished for the poor and downtrodden had Hoover not interfered and ended his life.
Director: Shaka King
Stars: Daniel Kaluuya, Fred Hampton, LaKeith Stanfield, Bill O’Neal, Jesse Plemons, Roy Mitchell, Martin Sheen, J. Edgar Hoover, Dominique Fishback, Lil Rel Howery
Rated R for mature themes, language and violence. This is a good one and a historical look at race and racial tensions in the 1960s that are relatable today. Give Judas and the Black Messiah a 5 on the Friday Flicks with Gary o to 5 scale.
You can see Judas and the Black Messiah in Vancouver at several theaters. Click here to see where.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.