Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) - 8/10
Do we need another film about race in America? Well yes of course we do, even if hopefully one day it’s largely solved, the history will still be important. The tone is set here by history with archive footage of Black Panthers. One being Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). He’s picked out by J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen in a lot of make up) as a danger, a possible “Black Messiah” rising up to unite blacks, communists, the left, anything that’s a perceived danger to the white establishment. We’re getting ahead though. Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) is busted impersonating an FBI agent, by real FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons), who has a deal to make, to turn Bill into Judas. It’ll be no surprise that this is based on true events, I’m guessing though that the real events were a bit more charged than what’s put on screen here. That’s not to say this is a fluff piece. Far from it, it’s explosive cinema and everyone plays their part magnificently. Not least Kalluya who commands every scene he’s in. He’s the epitome of truth, confidence and power and contrasts well with the more stealthy Stanfield. Bill is sent undercover to get to know Fred, the Black Panthers and feed the intel to the FBI. It’s a complex story, well told. Carefully paced with all the emphasis on the players rather than the cause. The story is seen through the eyes of those living it, it’s personal, to everyone. Now you can decide for yourselves who’s the good guys and who’s the bad, but the truth is somewhere in the grey area, there are no angels here, but plenty of good intentions… and bad ones. There’s no real surprises, it’s easy to follow, deeply engaging, accessible and entertaining. Albeit the darker side of entertaining. It boils down to no one liking anyone else, no one trusting anyone else. Crossing, double crossing, spying, killing. If you look different from me, you’re the enemy. Power and corruption. The religious tone of the title being highly accurate. I often find films like this hard to watch, baffled by the hate and ignorance that’s portrayed by some. Director Shaka King deftly works all the myriad of angles, plots, subplots with apparent ease though. Maintaining a heart and humanity in the midst of such wanton violence. This is a huge issue, put on screen in a big way, making a massive film. Seriously the scale of this is dizzying. There’s nothing I can really say to do it justice. I don’t know how accurate it is. I don’t think it matters. The big picture is sound and we need films like this more than ever and if for no other reason it’s worth watching for Kaluuya alone.