Movie Review: JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons
In theaters and streaming on HBO Max on February 12, Judas and the Black Messiah tells the true story of Fred Hampton, chairman of the Chicago Black Panthers, and how his efforts were sabotaged by FBI informant William O’Neal.
Written by director Shaka King and Will Berson, we see how O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) – a petty criminal – chose to work with the FBI in order to avoid jail time, and infiltrated the local Black Panthers to become their chief of security. Tasked with monitoring the plans of Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), he reports back to his handler, Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons), causing the FBI to always be one step ahead of the Panthers’ plans.
Kaluuya has proven himself time and time again over the past few years to be a dependable leading man, and he is absolutely magnetic as the outspoken leader. He commands every scene he is in, and masterfully conveys why people were drawn to Hampton’s ideas and vision for the future. Intimidating when he needs to be, and compassionate – like when dealing with his fellow panthers, or especially his blossoming relationship with Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback) – his ability to walk you through how the character feels is always impressive.
Lakeith Stanfield turns in a solid performance as O’Neal, who is constantly faced with the guilt of helping himself at the cost of hurting those around him. What starts off as a selfish act spirals out of control as the stakes are raised, and the actor makes it realized just how tormented the informer becomes by his actions. One of the most versatile actors today, Stanfield can do it all – and is always a welcomed addition to any cast.
Speaking of versatile actors, Plemons is someone else whose name you get excited about whenever it pops up in a movie. He is no stranger to taking on deplorable characters (looking at you, Todd), and here the FBI has tasked him with carrying out some unscrupulous activities at the behest of director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen). Plemons excels at making you feel uneasy, and not knowing whether you can really trust him – putting you right alongside O’Neal.
Although half a century has passed since the events of the film, it still sadly feels relevant to the struggles many face today. With the Black Lives Matter movement in the spotlight over the past few years, it is easy to draw comparisons to current events and the way some people in authority still take advantage of their positions. The film is a fascinating look at the brave men and women who took a stand and paved the way for those who are still fighting for equality today.
Filled with terrific performances and a compelling look at recent history which still inspires those who fight for human rights, Judas and the Black Messiah is an important film which showcases just a small portion of the uphill battle people of color still face today. It’s an important reminder of why change is possible, and the selfless actions of those responsible.