Director: Shaka King
Writer: Will Berson, Shaka King (Screenplay) Will Berson, Shaka King, Kenneth Lucas, Keith Lucas (Story)
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Algee Smith
Plot: The story of Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and his fateful betrayal by FBI informant William O’Neal.
Runtime: 2 Hours 6 Minutes
There may be spoilers in the rest of the review
Story: Judas and the Black Messiah starts as we see a small-time car thief Bill O’Neal (Stanfield) get caught by FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Plemons) who cuts him a deal. The deal will see Bill avoid any jail time, if he will undercover in the Black Panther.
Bill needs to get close to the Chairman of the Illinois party Fred Hampton (Kaluuya) who has been spreading the word to bring about equality in America. Here Bill will find himself trapped by Roy who threatens him with jail or the Panthers who have the rumours of torturing someone who betrays them.
Thoughts on Judas and the Black Messiah
Characters & Performances – Fred Hampton is the charismatic leader of the Black Panthers in Illinois. He will give speeches that will motive people to follow him and learn from the messages he is trying to spread to the world, without resorting to violence. Away from the spotlight, Fred is a calm presence who just wants what everyone else does, a quiet life. Daniel Kaluuya gives us a brilliant performance, rightfully involved in the award conversation, the speeches grab your attention. Bill O’Neal is a car thief that pretends to be an FBI agent to rob other black men, caught in the act by real FBI agent Roy Mitchell. He is left to face a decision, jail time or go undercover in the Black Panther party. He does have the confidence to step into the position, but he is also filled with fear about what will happen if he gets caught, he is always looking over his shoulder in fear. LaKeith Stanfield is also brilliant here, with the performance that is filled with the uncertainty he is facing. Roy Mitchell is the FBI agent that recruits Bill, he seems to try and play it fair to start with, before changing as the time roles on, I do believe we did need more from this character, was he trying to help or just following orders. We do also get to meet different members of the Black Panther, each member wants the same things, but does have a different way of wanting to bring the change.
Story – The story here follows an FBI informant who gets recruited to go undercover in the Black Panther party to get close to the local chairman Fred Hampton. This is a story style we have seen before with many films where a person goes undercover in a gang/mob or in this case a political party and must keep their identity secret or face the consequences. We get to see how the man is recruited and gets left in the middle of no man’s land, facing jail or betrayal. We do focus more on this character’s different decisions over what the Black Panthers stood for and their battle against the Law who constantly framed them. We might have gotten more time looking at this side of the discussion, as it would put the spotlight on the people who did or didn’t make the right decisions.
Themes – Judas and the Black Messiah is a biopic looking at a great leader who was helping to make a change the right way and how he was betrayed. We do seem to focus more on the betrayal over the movement Fred Hampton was part of. The film does recreate the look of the late 1960s very well too.