Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) Review
LIKE any good biographical film, Judas and the Black Messiah accurately and faithfully retells the story of the Illinois Black Panther Party, but does its style-over-substance manner of storytelling overshadow the point of the film?
After posing as a FBI agent, Bill O'Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) is left with two choices: spend several years in prison, or follow the orders of Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) and infiltrate the Illinois Black Panther Party to gather vital intel on Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).
Left with little choice, O'Neal goes undercover for the FBI and forms a close relationship with the Black Panther's young and hungry activist. But as his friendship with Hampton gradually develops, how deep will O'Neal go before he loses sight of the mission and his own beliefs?
Director Shaka King guides Stanfield and Kaluuya to Oscar-nominated performances; the latter winning Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Fred Hampton, the young symbol of resistance assassinated by Chicago police aged-21. Kaluuya infuses passion into each and every word spoken, delivering powerful speeches which draw eerily-true parallels between 1960s and present day society.
Stanfield, Plemons and Martin Sheen also deliver exceptional performances; Sheen in particular, despite limited screen-time, makes the most of it by portraying FBI director J. Edgar Hoover in a simple, underrated performance for the 65-year acting veteran.
In an unexpected but welcome delight, Judas and the Black Messiah features an incredible soundtrack, effortlessly blending into the atmosphere of 1960s Chicago. Jazz compositions kick-off the introduction to Bill O'Neal and his eccentric lifestyle before gradually transitioning into inspirational, poignant songs such as H.E.R.'s Fight For You as the film becomes much more mature and compelling in its presentation.
The cinematography only adds to the film's manifesting personality and flavour, giving viewers subtle hints of upcoming events through specific lighting and camera placements. Sean Bobbitt knows when less is more as very few cuts are made throughout, making even the most important conversations seem grander than they are by focusing on the actor's expressions for longer periods of time.
Despite minor characters feeling undeveloped and frivolous, Judas and the Black Messiah accurately tells the harrowing true story of Fred Hampton and the Illinois Black Panther Party in an exhilarating, heartfelt feature only enhanced by brilliant, star-making performances courtesy of Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield.