The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” is certainly a timely film with all of the issues that exist in the world today regarding racism. Even though some strides have been made, we still have a long way to go until things are where they need to be in this world. Systemic racism is a serious issue, and it doesn’t seem like there is a day that goes by where we are not hearing about a black man or woman being killed by someone in a position of power. It is why films like this one are so important. Many people do not watch or read the news. When they see it in a major motion picture, it can sometimes raise their level of awareness. That is the power of cinema at its finest.
Our film starts off in the late 1960’s when we meet William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), a small-time criminal who goes around waving a badge in order to steal cars. As he says in the film, the badge carries more weight than a gun because everyone knows there is an army behind that badge. When he is caught, he is forced to enter into a deal with Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) to work undercover for the FBI. If William does not accept this deal, he is facing eighteen months in prison for stealing a car along with five years for impersonating an officer. He has to go undercover to keep an eye on what is happening with the Black Panther Party in Illinois, which is run by the charismatic and powerful Fred Hampton played by Daniel Kaluuya in an Oscar-winning performance.
Both Kaluuya and Stanfield were nominated for Best Supporting Actor for their work here, but I would have to say that I’d give the edge to Stanfield as he has to play a dual-role as a member of the Black Panther Party while also trying to keep Roy and the FBI happy. While Kaluuya had to give more of a boisterous and in-your-face performance, Stanfield has to balance all of the moral dilemmas his character has to endure throughout the film. He wears all of this on his face and on screen with his stunning performance. That being said, I understand it can be difficult to compare performances in different films let alone the same film and the same category.
As soon as Fred Hampton starts to gain some steam and bring people together to form the Rainbow Coalition, which is all-inclusive and a real threat to the infrastructure, greed, and abuse of power which is happening all around Illinois, he is sent to jail on some phony ice-cream theft charges. This is when William O’Neal starts to have more responsibility put on his plate with the Black Panther Party. He is up for the task, and he holds his own especially when it comes to security. There is another element for Fred to consider and that is his budding romance with Deborah (Dominique Fishback). She gives a vulnerable yet commanding performance as a young woman who is not afraid to have Fred’s back.
When Fred is finally released from prison, things get even more complicated with the Black Panther Party and the FBI’s director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen). They are starting to see that Fred Hampton is a real threat and is bringing about real change for people. The fact he is able to unite so many people of different races and cultural backgrounds is nothing short of amazing. He’s a true hero. At this point, William O’Neal is forced to make some difficult decisions for himself. He has the Black Panther Party, which is, at times, suspicious of him. He also has the FBI, which wonders if he really believes in what Fred Hampton is fighting for, each and every single day.
I’m a huge fan of the adult drama that is inspired by true events in Hollywood. I think whenever a film can entertain and educate an audience, it’s really something to behold, and this film really stayed with me long after it was over. It’s a powerful piece of filmmaking that is one of the best films of 2020. It features fantastic performances from top to bottom. I mentioned the two supporting actors earlier, but to me, they are both the leads in this film. I just feel as though Stanfield is on screen longer and has a meatier role than Kaluuya in this film. There also must be credit given to Plemons. Even though he is the bad guy in the film, there are a lot of layers to him. It’s not a cardboard cutout bad guy. It must also be noted from a historical point of view, this was the first film with an all-black producing team to be nominated in the Best Picture category at the Academy Awards. This is a well-acted, well-written, and supremely intense film from start to finish. I can’t recommend it enough.
* * * * out of * * * *
Blu-Ray Special Features:
Fred Hampton for the People
“Judas and the Black Messiah” is released on a single-disc Blu-ray with a digital copy from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. The film has a running time of 126 minutes and is rated R for violence and pervasive language.
The film has a 1080p/2.39:1 High-Definition transfer which really enhances the look and feel of the late 60’s into the early 70’s. The audio is featured on the following formats: DTS-HD MA: English 5.1 and English Descriptive Audio with subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” is the kind of film which reminds me of why I love moves in the first place. This is not a feel-good movie if you are familiar with the story at all, which I was not prior to watching it, but it proves a serious point that needs to be made. It creates conversation, and it shows off some of the best acting I’ve seen in a very long time. As mentioned earlier, I’ve always felt film is at its best when it tells stories which are worth telling and can open minds to what others in the world and are going through in their day-to-day lives. The Blu-ray looks and sounds great, but I would have enjoyed a few more special features and maybe a detailed documentary on the real-life story. Still, this is a film that you should add to your collection for the phenomenal acting and storytelling which is on display throughout.