Judas and the Black Messiah (2021). Photo: Warner Brothers

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

"A badge is scarier than a gun." - Bill O'Neal 

Judas and the Black Messiah is a gripping historical drama that features two of the best acting performances in years. When you see acting of this caliber, it inspires and renews our faith in the power of movie-making. It was one of our favorite films of 2021.

Judas and the Black Messiah tells the story of Fred Hampton's rise and fall in the Chicago Black Panther Party. It also documents the heartbreaking tale of Bill Oneal's journey from petty stick-up artist to FBI informant and tragic pawn of the federal government.

Judas is fascinating, entertaining, and ultimately tragic. This bold film pulls you in from the very first scene (where O'Neal botches a barroom hold-up) and then takes you on a dangerous journey. Tossed into the world of the FBI, the Black Panthers (and their complex internal relationships), O'Neal befriends rising political activist Fred Hampton.

LaKeith Stansfield and Daniel Kaluuya are electrifying in the dual lead roles, and the supporting performances here are top-notch, especially Dominque Fishback. In one of the strangest recent moves by the Academy (and there have been many), the two lead actors were both nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Voters had to choose between the two, leaving critics baffled. Obviously, one was the lead actor and the other supporting? It would have been preferable to see Stansfield nominated as Best Lead and Kaluuya as Best Supporting, or both listed in the Lead category.

Thankfully Daniel Kaluuya won the Oscar for his portrayal of Fred Hampton. However, it left LaKeith Stansfield out in the cold. Stansfield is brilliant in the role of FBI informant Bill O'Neal, and the range of emotions that this actor can hit is mesmerizing. He can appear calm yet quickly turn worried, anxious, or break into a hearty laugh. Stansfield is one of the brightest young actors working today, and let's hope he continues to get outstanding scripts (such as Judas and the Black Messiah) in the future so we can see him work his magic.

It is impossible to understate the power of the message behind Judas and the Black Messiah. Judas and the Black Messiah does a superb job of telling the experience of the Black Panther Party in Chicago through the complex relationship between Hampton and O'Neal. The nation was (and still is) grappling to overcome our racist past and present, and the two grapple with their visions on how to help the country overcome it.

The script is tight, the acting is mesmerizing, and the direction is outstanding. Judas and the Black Messiah is storytelling at its best, and every element of this electrifying piece of cinema is on point. (A-)

Directed by Shaka King
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, Algee Smith, Dominique Thorne, and Martin Sheen
Genre: Drama

Photo: Warner Brothers

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