Saturday 13 February 2021

Judas and the Black Messiah (Movie Review)

There seems to be no shortage of timely historical dramas of late, and the newest one to be gracing screens big and small is Judas and the Black Messiah. Produced by Ryan Coogler, the film is a dramatization of the events that took place in the late 1960s, in which the FBI managed to infiltrate the ranks of the Chicago branch of the Black Panther Party. Released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, the film is the latest one from the Warner Bros. 2021 slate to receive a same-day premiere.

The film stars Lakeith Stanfield as Bill O'Neal, a man caught trying to steal a car while impersonating an FBI agent. But rather than spend the next few years in prison for his crimes, he is given a choice to work with the actual FBI as an informant. His assignment is to infiltrate the Black Panther Party, by getting close to its chairman, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), an offer Bill accepts.

He slowly begins to work his way into his target's good graces, even rising to become his chief security officer. But as he becomes a greater part of the Black Panther family, he starts to feel conflicted about relaying their every move to his handler (Jesse Plemons). Now Bill must choose between fulfilling his promise to the FBI or going to prison for his crimes, or worse, risk getting exposed.

Judas and the Black Messiah is a captivating look back in history. It lays bare all the facts surrounding the events depicted with a razor-sharp accuracy seldom seen outside of the best documentaries. Like The Trial of the Chicago 7 before it, the movie also manages to capture the racially charged atmosphere of late 1960s America. That many of the themes it explores are still relevant today points to its timeliness and timelessness, and the director Shaka King's attention to detail.

His film is populated with characters operating within a moral grey area. But rather than try to demonize any of those characters or the institutions involved, the film goes for a far more nuanced approach. And most of that was made possible by some truly remarkable performances from both Kaluuya and Stanfield. The former might be getting most of the praise right now, but it was actually Lakeith Stanfield's turn as Bill that left a greater impression in my opinion.

Everything from his troubled mannerisms to his quiet delivery spoke of a man that was being eaten up from the inside by the consequences of his actions. I was also happy to see Dominique Fishback once again at the top of her acting game. We last saw her in the Netflix film, Project Power, and she once again proves herself to be quite a capable actress.

Overall, Judas and the Black Messiah is a movie that needs to be experienced one way or another. So whether you choose to do so in theaters or at home on HBO Max, you're guaranteed to be met with some truly top-tier storytelling.


  1. We still have HBO Max so I can check it out.

    1. Great. You should. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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