Let’s dig in. Dig in?
Judas and the Black Messiah has gotten a lot of buzz around it. Daniel Kaluuya’s portrayal of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton has received literal truckloads of praise. He deserves it! His performance is so good that if you listen closely you can hear some Hollywood production company making a movie about white people driving in order to prevent the Oscars from acknowledging black actors.
Kaluuya deserves every bit of praise he is getting. His portrayal of Fred Hampton is probably most folks first exposure to the revolutionary and through his performance we get a textured look at the Black Panthers. Honestly, it is just refreshing to see a movie from the perspective of those working on the ground in the black communities.
However, the story isn’t Hampton’s alone. We also follow Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), a young car thief turned FBI informant who gets into Hampton’s inner circle. I want to see more people praising Stanfield when discussing this movie. Half of the story is his (more or less) and he proves himself to be an excellent actor again.
We round out a fantastic cast with FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) and Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback) who add gravitas to every scene. There isn’t a dull performance from anyone here. The entire cast and crew deserve praise.
We follow Hampton as he works to unite the social groups of Chicago to expand the Panthers’ power. He has a free clinic, breakfast for kids, and other social programs that are in large part made to create the social contract denied to minorities in the 1960s. With O’Neal in tow and feeding information to the FBI we all know it is only a matter of time before the gut wrenching and inevitable conclusion comes.
The film smolders beneath the surface at a near relentless pace. The social conditions mixed with opportunistic political entities and generations of hate leave the city a powder keg ready to ignite. The tragedy of this film is that so much of what is present here is still an issue.
The banality of the racism present towards Hampton and others in the movement shows how deep seated all these issues are in our culture. Hell, the fact that Hampton and this entire history is completely absent from our general education curriculum is a sign of how cooked into our bones racism and class struggles are.
This is an excellent movie that captures the essence of a crime drama while telling a powerful and meaningful historical tale. While some aspects are dramatized, a lot of it is stunningly accurate. We have a highwater mark for any film to attempt to pass this year.
An absolute must watch.