From the beginning, I believed “Judas and the Black Messiah” would follow the same formula as other historical motion picture dramas. But around the 10-minute mark, I realized my perception was wrong.
Not only did the film live up to the hype surrounding it, but also far surpassed my expectations. In all honesty, it beats Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” in terms of acting and story – my previous favorite film of the year.
The film was directed by Shaka King, who co-wrote the script with Will Berson. Although it was King’s major directorial debut, he gave the film an authentic tone, which is almost unheard of for big-budget movies nowadays.
Like many other films, Warner Bros. Pictures released the movie to HBO Max and theaters Feb. 12, due to COVID-19’s impact on moviegoers.
The film most notably stars Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton, LaKeith Stanfield as Bill O’Neal, Jesse Plemons as Roy Mitchell, and Dominique Fishback as Deborah Johnson.
After attempting to hijack a car while posing as a federal officer, Chicago police arrest O’Neal. But FBI special agent Mitchell offers to have O’Neal’s charges dropped if he works undercover in order to gain access to the Illinois Black Panther Party (BPP), and Hampton, the leader of the party.
O’Neal grows close to Hampton, who works to form alliances with rival gangs and militia groups through his persuasive speaking skills. All the while, Hampton falls in love with Johnson, a fellow BPP member.
Unlike many other biopic films, “Judas and the Black Messiah” wasn’t afraid to lash out at the BPP or the cops. In other words, King wasn’t one-sided about his negative views on the BPP and their violent practices, since he also took shots at the brutality inflicted by the cops.
While there wasn’t a lot of violence in the 126-minute runtime, when it did occur, it was brutal and bloody. But thankfully, the film didn’t glamorize violence or linger on the gory aftermath.
As far as acting goes, the performances were flawless – each gave life to the character they were portraying. There was no casting choice that seemed out of place.
In particular, Stanfield shined in his role – he portrayed O’Neil as being an awkward African American man who didn’t know his place in society. Although his performance in Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You” was amazing, Stanfield outdid himself as an actor yet again.
Along with Stanfield’s performance, Fishback, who also starred in Netflix’s “Project Power,” gave a near perfect rendition of Hampton’s lover. Instead of glossing over the actress’s ability, the film takes full advantage of her execution of a flawed character.
Early on in the film, there were many natural conversations between the characters of Hampton and Johnson. During my first viewing, it was clear why Fishback and Kaluuya were cast – they had great chemistry.
The acting certainly wasn’t the only top-notch aspect of the film. For instance, the pacing was smooth and no scenes ever felt unneeded.
Furthermore, every scene was relevant and expanded the plot. Even the scenes in which the Panthers tried to promote their party never felt tacked on.
Along with the even pacing, the spoken dialogue was realistic and fluid. There was never a moment in which an actor said something that went against their character.
While the film was tense for the most part, it was an enjoyable and informative experience. Rather than pushing political boundaries for the sake of doing so, the movie had a message to it.
Despite being distributed by a major movie studio, the film never came off as a cash-grab. In fact, “Judas and the Black Messiah” felt more like King’s personal passion project, rather than aimed at mainstream audiences.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” is not only the best biography of the year, but may very well be the best dramatic film since “Moonlight.” It delivers an unforgettable story, stellar script, superb dialogue, and some of the best acting I’ve ever seen.
The movie flew by, leaving me no time to find flaws. And while the film did give off the wrong impression during its first few opening minutes, I can’t fault it for showing real-life footage of the BPP.
Do believe the hype – “Judas and the Black Messiah” is a cinematic masterpiece.
Rating: A+ – This film is the “King” of cinema.