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judas and the black messiah
Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya appear in <i>Judas and the Black Messiah</i> by Shaka King, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Glen Wilson.

Movie Reviews

[Sundance ’21] ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ review: Stunning performances in biopic about Black Panther Party chairman

A sure fire Oscar candidate?

Judas and the Black Messiah is a powerhouse film that made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. The topical film is about Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. After being classified a threat by the FBI, an informant is installed into the BPP. What at first seems like a way to arrest Hampton turns into something more sinister.

The performances in the film are amazing. Daniel Kaluuya provides an award worthy performance as Hampton. Kaluuya gets across the charisma and power of Hampton. He is magnetic and bristles with intensity in each scene. When he speaks, it is impossible not to listen. Audiences will see the messiah figure that the FBI was so afraid of. 

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Judas and the Black Messiah is not content to just show the quotable moments of Hampton’s life. The film also shows Hampton in more vulnerable moments and  how he was much more than just a revolutionary willing to sacrifice himself. It is in the scenes with Deborah Johnson (a mesmerizing Dominique Fisback) that Hampton is fully formed.

[Sundance '21] 'Judas and the Black Messiah' review: Stunning performances in biopic about Black Panther Party chairman

Lakeith Stanfield plays informant Bill O’Neal. The story is not the typical FBI snitch infiltrates a group before becoming enamored by them. O’Neal’s initial reason for joining are purely selfish and his entire time in the group is all about satisfying self interests. It is not until the very end when even FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) is unsure that O’Neal has any doubts.

It is in these moments that the Judas and the Black Messiah all comes together. It is a story about Black people, but it is also a story about power. The entire time the film has been dropping not so subtle hints about how the ruling classes will always have the upper hand. As the movie races towards its conclusion, it is proven to be more than just rhetoric.

[Sundance '21] 'Judas and the Black Messiah' review: Stunning performances in biopic about Black Panther Party chairman

The soundtrack keeps pace with what is going on in the film. The early moments of the film are filled with free form jazz that goes with the almost improvisational actions of Judas and the Black Messiah. As things slow down and become more organized, so does the music. It is a great example of songs helping to create an atmosphere.

Judas and the Black Messiah sounds like it will be a movie about a relationship between two people. Instead, it is a story about two dynamics. The strong performances will captivate audiences while the story could be ripped out of today’s headlines. This is a movie set during a particular time but those same problems still exist today.

Judas and the Black Messiah comes to theaters nationwide and HBO Max February 12.

judas and the black messiah
[Sundance ’21] ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ review: Stunning performances in biopic about Black Panther Party chairman
Judas and the Black Messiah
Topical, awesome performances, great soundtrack, and well written. Riveting and poignant, the film is mesmerizing. Awards worthy on many levels.
Reader Rating1 Vote
9
Great perfromances from the entire cast
The decision to not make Hampton and O'Neal's relationship makes the movie better
First act of movie speeds along with little tension
9
Great

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