Movie #79 2021: Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

When Daniel Kaluuya won his Golden Globe for Judas and the Black Messiah, my girlfriend and I cheered the house down because he so deserved it. Weirdly though, it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, and in fact it’s only other nomination came in the form of Best Original Song. This review will basically be proof that it deserved much more attention than it received.

Based on true events, Judas and the Black Messiah is the story of Fred Hampton, the once chairman of the Illinois faction of the Black Panther Party. As Hampton rallies up protestors who want to ensure equality in the USA, Lakeith Stanfield plays William O’Neal, who has been recruited by the FBI to be a secret informant in exchange for them waiving his sentence of six years in prison for petty crimes. Hence the name begins to make sense: Judas (O’Neal) and the Black Messiah (Hampton). The film focuses on Hampton’s life and the lengths O’Neal went to in order to keep his freedom.

Someone please explain to me how the Globes nominated Daniel Kaluuya as best supporting actor? He and Lakeith Stanfield both lead this movie and they are both phenomenal. It genuinely makes no sense. On some accounts, one could actually argue that Kaluuya had more to do here than Stanfield, therefore this ‘supporting’ bullshit makes even less sense. Riddle me that, Hollywood Foreign Press.

I won’t go back on my previous statement though; the performances here extraordinary. This is a film that could have been a complete mess if the wrong people were cast, there’s no doubt about it. However, Stanfield’s eyes alone capture everything you need to know about William O’Neill and Kaluuya is simply a god damn star in every sense of the word. Dominique Fishback and Jesse Plemons support with such strength too, and I’m entirely sure that Fishback has such an excellent career ahead of her.

One bone I have to pick: Martin Sheen as the real life villain J. Edgar Hoover? Please don’t ever make me hate President Bartlet ever again 😭 (Although it really upset me, the fact that Sheen got me to dislike him so much is just testament to him as an actor because boy, he is nefarious here.)

For only his second directorial credit, Shaka King does an amazing job with this one. He manages to create a tactile feel of the time period, with brilliant costuming and set design to boot. And the offbeat, alarming jazz soundtrack? One of the best things about the movie. The tone is set immediately with the erratic tones of piano and brass instruments, making Judas feel like a two hour panic attack in the best way possible.

Alas, it’s not a wholly perfect movie. The one thing that felt a little off to me was the sound mixing. Sometimes the music seemed extremely loud and I could barely hear what the characters were saying, but that’s a small price to pay for such an important and strong piece of storytelling. 

A little tightening of the pacing and ironing out the creases in the sound department and this would be a five star movie. Despite those minor flaws, I really appreciate that I now know this story because it truly deserves to be heard.

And fuck the police.

Judas and the Black Messiah was set to be released at the end of February in the UK, but with cinemas being closed we are still awaiting confirmation of its release date.

TQR Category Ratings:

Costume & Set Design: 
Overall Rating: ½

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