Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya are a tour de force in this portrait of the killing of two souls. In 1968 Chicago, Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton, sought to unify multiple groups of disparaged people, regardless of color, against the system that disparaged them. And against the police who did that system’s bidding. His work was a bigger threat to the status quo and capitalism then actual terrorist and murderers like the members of the Klu Klux Klan. So the FBI set out to destroy Fred Hampton. And they found the right man for the job.
Judas and the Black Messiah is the story of that man and the events that lead to one of the worst untold injustices in the 20th century. Daniel Kaluuya stars and is the definition of a star as Fred Hampton. A spirited and strong willed man, focused on fighting for the right of Black people to build and have their own. But there is more to Hampton’s vision then just Black independence. And that vision starts to come into focus as Hampton uses words and reasoning to win over rival gangs, persons with different skin colors and those of his own party to his cause.
Fred Hamptons powerful influence and revolutionary platform comes with undertones of violence and discussions of fighting a war with America. Subsequently Hampton gains the attention of J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) the director of the FBI and a racist who calls the Black Panthers a terrorist organization and it’s leaders... “dangerous.” To combat this Black Messiah threat growing in Chicago FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) is tasked by Hoover with getting intel that can be used to stop Hampton.
Mitchell drafts William O’Neal, a clever slickster with a penchant for self preservation and gain. We meet him impersonating an officer and stealing a car. A demonstration of the perfect set of skills needed to infiltrate the Black Panthers and serve as a informant for the FBI. From there a tense story of betrayal is built. O’Neal looks early on to turn his situation to his advantage, making money for informing. But he struggles to reconcile the moral implications of his task and the budding friendship he’s built with Hampton against the mounting consequences of failing to deliver whatever his FBI handlers request of him. While Kaluuya’s performance as Hampton will garner the most attention and praise (it’s well deserved), Lakeith Stanfield is the revelation here.
He gives a stellar performance as O’Neal; a conflicted and frightened man, but also one who’s instinct for survival and personal gain outweigh his willingness to do what’s best for others. He will learn that his choices will cost him more than he stands to gain. Ultimately this story is a tragedy, depicting the physical killing of one man and the slow spiritual killing of another. With racist at the highest parts of the government pulling the strings. Of note is Dominique Fishback’s portrayal of Deborah Johnson, Hampton’s partner and the mother of his child. She sees greatness and flaws in Hampton and has no compunction about pointing out either. She also later has to struggle with how her decisions to fight for what she believes in will affect her unborn child and those she loves. Fishback plays Johnson with an intelligence and deep compassion that shows in every facial expression and her speaking rhythm. She’s captivating.
The script is the combined effort of four writers who had worked separately for years to bring Hampton’s story to the screen. What they’ve landed on here and what Shaka King aptly directs is a film that seeks to tell the truth about black and American History and all it’s nasty, painful layers.......Truth hurts.
Five out of five stars.
Written by Kenny Lucas, Keith Lucas, Will Berson and Shaka King and directed by Shaka King, Judas and the Black Messiah stars Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Dominique Fishback and Jesse Plemons. It runs 126 minutes and is rated R for violence and language. The film can be seen in select theaters and streaming on HBO Max through March 14th 2021.