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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Judas And The Black Messiah' Review: LaKeith Stanfield, Daniel Kaluuya & Betrayal

Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield raising their fists
Warner Bros. Pictures

Something about Chicago and Fred Hampton this year in period pieces, right? Director Shaka King delivers us his sophomore feature Judas And The Black Messiah, a film that references true events from the 1960s, co-written by Will Berson. Judas in the title refers to our main character Bill O'Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) who is being used by FBI to infiltrate the Black Panther Party and more importantly the inner circle of its leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), the ''Black Messiah'', and in return O'Neal would get charges of a car theft dropped and some financial compensation. What gets delivered is a stylish and well-acted film with an extremely fascinating story in the centre of it, even if it doesn't always flow amazingly.

Every movie should start with a story that is worth telling and while ''Judas'' definitely has that in the bag, even more remarkable is the fact that it manages to shape a biographical drama, which it is, into something new and exciting because it more or less takes these two characters and tells both of their stories.

Characterisation is something that Hampton gets more which is surprising because O'Neal is first in the title and we don't learn all that much about him, there was a chance to take creative liberties with that but his actions still drive the plot which saves a lot of it. It also means that Kaluuya gets the more introspective role and he uses his opportunities well - he gets the body language of a leader, commanding voice to deliver the speeches and emotional scenes with Dominique Fishback (as Deborah Johnson, Hampton's girlfriend), all which make one well-rounded performance.

What you give to your leading actors also leads into some of the stuff that doesn't really work as the fact that O'Neal's scenes aren't always impactful makes some time jumps and scene changes feel strange. Especially since we have a strong starting point with O'Neal's recruitment and hard-hitting ending with Hampton's fate, the lack of throughline from act to act or from one sequence to another makes it a bit frustrating to follow at times. Something to heal those wounds is the technical work however because Sean Bobbitt's photography, as well as the colouring on those pictures, is fantastic. Notably the framing in Hampton's scenes, and how we should perceive his charisma and influence, is really striking. Because the angle on the 60s and biographical material by King is a bit different, it's nice to see that extend to the visuals, costumes and sets too.

Smileys: Story, Daniel Kaluuya, colouring, cinematography

Frowneys: Structure

'Oh, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. I don't trust this Juda-as'


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