You can’t murder a revolution. So this is about Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield). He becomes a Black Panther and starts to get close to the Party Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). There is just one secret: Bill O’Neal is working with the FBI. Now, I was very much looking forward to this. Judas and the Black Messiah got slated for an Oscar run, but it got pushed back, which was not an uncommon story last year. Like Malcolm & Marie, it got a 2021 release date, but it is still is considered for 2020 awards. Also like Malcolm & Marie, it doesn’t matter what year you are considering this for, it’s just a finely made film.
One of my favorite actors working today.
The thing I most appreciated about Judas and the Black Messiah is the historical perspective. I think most people will agree that the vast majority of the United States’ history has been from the white point of view. Anybody who tells their own story will almost always modify it so they are shown in a positive light. Nobody paints themselves as a villain, so of course, edits get made so the audience is dealt inaccurate or incomplete information. I wasn’t all that familiar with the story of Fred Hampton and how he was assassinated by his government, but why would I be? Unless I was actively seeking this man’s biography out, it’s not something that would have been taught to me. It’s a powerful story, and it is brought to life by three stellar performances. Daniel Kaluuya turns in more terrific work as Fred Hampton. It feels authentic; yes, the speeches he delivers are impassioned, but he also has a softness in his personal life. Kaluuya has exhibited an extensive range as a young actor, and between this, Get Out, and Widows, he knows how to command the screen in different ways. Lakeith Stanfield is committed as expected. I don’t think that he is as immersed in the role as Kaluuya; he still delivers a standout performance, I just didn’t stop seeing Lakeith Stanfield in the part is all. I also thought that Jesse Plemons did very well in an unsung role. He is not the main focus since it is not his story, but he still continues to prove himself repeatedly and consistently in his craft.
If you see Jesse Plemons in this crowd, you already know he’s not supposed to be there.
This story is still strikingly relevant decades later, which is a bit depressing. The story runs concurrently with The Trial of the Chicago 7, and even though the movies are accomplishing two drastically different goals, they both complement each other quite well. This movie is filled with tense scenes, and it seems like each time you get out of the frying pan, you only fall into the fire. I was wholly invested, and the script flat-out works. I do think that the story overextends itself just outside of its reach. There is a lull right between its second and third acts, which isn’t the time you want to run out of steam. I think if they cut 15 minutes out, it would be a tighter narrative, and there is a subplot that could be removed. That’s not because the people in the subplot are unimportant, it would just benefit flow because this movie is about Fred Hampton and Bill O’Neal. Still, this is a terrifically made film that is sure to make you mad, but that is by design.
Judas and the Black Messiah (2020) ****
– Critic for Hire