Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) Review

RATING: 4/5

An FBI informant is tasked to learn and behave like a Black Panther Party member to get close to revolutionary Fred Hampton.

Director Shaka King’s showcases wonderous talent with his first mainstream smash hit.

Daniel Kaluuya did a fantastic job at portraying Fred Hampton. For starters, I didn’t know a single thing about Hampton until watching the film. After the picture was over, I have to say I was genuinely impressed. Whether it was his speeches or the actions he committed, the man was the center of the attention. When he spoke, the angry and passion was heard very clearly. The actions he committed, were justifiable and you didn’t want the cops (pigs), to stop him and his revolution. Hampton may seem like a dangerous man based on the falsified media by the white majority. But deep down, he cared not only about his race, but also for unifying the various groups from all over Chicago, to send a powerful message to the leaders on wanting a positive change.

Lakeith Stanfield was great as William O’Neal. Once a car thief turned informant for the FBI through the 70s. One understood why he had to do what he did and it was something that he himself, wasn’t too fond of. Whenever he was feeling anxious, stressed, or filled with another powerful emotion, one felt it. Heading into the dark side was not an easy task for O’Neal. He didn’t want to dive deep into his job, but with a little financial and get-out-of-jail persuasion, his hand was unfortunately forced. Like I mentioned, one felt the pain he portrayed, especially toward the end during the scene just before the raid.

The rest of the supporting characters gave really good performances. Jesse Plemons as agent Roy Mitchell was an interesting person as someone who was on the fence about the organization he worked in. When it came to the members of the Black Panthers, one wanted to root for them badly and not let injustice go unpunished. When it came to the other side of the spectrum, one felt the sliminess and hateful disgust they spat out especially by J. Edgar played by Martin Sheen.

The visuals and technical side of the feature was something to take major note of. Cinematography was nicely done. There were times where the camera would follow the subject with no little to no cuts and it all looked rather seamless. Perspective shots were implemented well whenever a speech was brought forth. Two shots for me that stood out were when Hampton was in the classroom sitting in front of an overblown white window. That with the fact that he was wearing a white long-sleeve, added nice symbolism. He was a man who was righteous in his deeds. Or in the case of the movie, a poet. The other shot involved O’Neal returning to his apartment. He sits on his bed with a red light piercing through the window on his right. While the window on the left side of the shot, was a whitish-green. Again, nice symbolism in that it foreshadowed a dark future and the wrongdoings he acted during that time.

Sound was quite impressive at times. One of my favorites scenes was when one of the party members was running through the plant, having a shoot-out with the cops. It felt like I was watching “Predator” with the drums kicking it. The tension and atmosphere worked great for it. Music was orchestrated well with its jazz, hip-hop, and R&B influences thrown in. It for sure can make one stand up and fight for the right thing. Or it can offer a nice moody, gritty, or foreboding feel whenever the harsh reality of the streets were taken center stage.

Watching the entire movie, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the film “Malcolm X” or Spike Lee in general. When it came down to the style or direction, this was a project I felt like Lee would have definitely made. But I wouldn’t say King ripped off Lee. Similarities sure, but different in a number of reasons.

Now the negatives.

One thing I couldn’t help but notice was O’Neal’s job as an informant. Too many times where I felt like he wasn’t trying to blend in. Moments where he was trying too hard at being a member or moments where it was clearly obvious something was off about him. But apparently the other members didn’t notice or care. Like I would know something seemed wrong in one of the last scenes where O’Neal was getting teary-eyed and no one questioned him. Also no member questioned him after the police shoot-out. Also, him being known by the party for disguising himself as an FBI agent, should have raised more red flags.

One contradictory moment that really made me scratch my head was when O’Neal was showing Hampton tons of C4. A nonsensical/hypocritical moment for that he was in the same theater when Hampton delivered his speech prior when he returned from prison. At that point in time, he made it clear that he was a valuable member of the party. Agent Mitchell himself was impressed with his academy award level of acting. To throw something like that was jarring and again, it was something that should have been more addressed afterwards rather than not mentioning it ever again.

There should have been more backstory shown of O’Neal or the things he and agent Mitchell did outside of work. Especially the latter because there was a point of dialogue where O’Neal described Mitchell as a role model. But I just don’t feel like the movie did a good job at establishing that kind of relationship.

Again, Stanfield performed the role great. He always gives a strong performance. But his character acted too out of the ordinary and needed to be toned down.

Shaka King has a future for sure. He delivered at bringing forth a strong cast of characters with great acting, well done direction, good cinematography, nice music, and showcasing very relevant themes. The injustice of the police system. The movie couldn’t have come out at a better time. HIGHLY recommend this great and inspirational picture.

RIP to all those impacted.

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