Judas And The Black Messiah (15)Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Dominique Fishback, LaKeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons
Author(s): Shaka King, Will Berson
Director: Shaka King
Release Date: 11/03/2021
Running Time: 126mins
In 1968 Chicago, 18-year-old petty criminal William "Bill" O'Neal confidently wields a fake FBI badge to compel a group of black men to give him the keys to a Pontiac, which he claims has been reported stolen. Flashing blue lights interrupt his frantic getaway. At Cook County Jail, FBI special agent Roy Mitchell offers to dismiss the charges if O'Neal is willing to turn informant and infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party commanded by charismatic chairman Fred Hampton.
LondonNet Film Review
Judas And The Black Messiah (15)
Anchored by scintillating, Oscar-nominated performances from Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, Judas And The Black Messiah is a gripping dramatisation of an FBI counterintelligence operation to infiltrate the Black Panther Party in 1960s Chicago. Themes of racial injustice, betrayal and collusion, which run deep in a muscular script co-written by director Shaka King and Will Berson, strike discomfiting chords in the current climate and underline the short distance travelled since the shooting of 21-year-old party chairman Fred Hampton during a predawn raid…
Words are weaponised on screen in the battle for hearts and minds. While FBI director J Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) snarls disdain for The Black Panthers as “the single greatest threat to national security”, Hampton (Kaluuya) issues a rallying cry to mirror police violence by shedding the blood of men in uniform: “Kill ’em all, get complete satisfaction!” London-born actor Kaluuya scorches every pixel of the screen as he delivers Hampton’s ferocious oratory. Black and white stock footage of clashes between white police officers and black citizens lights a fuse on tension between the two communities, which detonates with full force in the film’s suspenseful second act.
In 1968 Chicago, 18-year-old petty criminal William “Bill” O’Neal (Stanfield) confidently wields a fake FBI badge to compel a group of black men to give him the keys to a Pontiac, which he claims has been reported stolen. Flashing blue lights interrupt his frantic getaway. At Cook County Jail, FBI special agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) coolly informs O’Neal that he is facing 18 months in prison for stealing a car and five years for impersonating a federal officer.
Mitchell offers to dismiss the charges if O’Neal is willing to turn informant and infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party commanded by charismatic chairman Fred Hampton. O’Neal reluctantly agrees and he wins the confidence of Hampton’s girlfriend Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback) and Black Panther members Judy Harmon (Dominique Thorne), Bobby Rush (Darrell Britt-Gibson) and Jake Winters (Algee Smith). Hampton’s rising popularity is a thorn in the side of J Edgar Hoover and he orders Mitchell to apply intolerable pressure to O’Neal to “neutralise” the threat.
Judas And The Black Messiah is a stylish and engrossing distillation of inglorious American history, which resulted in a 47 million dollar lawsuit alleging a conspiracy to assassinate Hampton. King’s assured direction makes light work of the two-hour running time, illuminating O’Neal’s anguished odyssey under the suffocating yoke of the FBI. Production designer Sam Lisenco and costume designer Charlese Antoinette Jones steep the powerhouse cast in impressive period detail as Hampton rouses his disenfranchised brothers and sisters with the defiant battle cry: “I am a revolutionary!” Citizens meet his rhetoric with fist-pumping fervour and we respond in impassioned kind.
– Jo Planter