Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) – Movie Review

I Am A Revolutionary

As Fred Hampton himself declares in this biopic, “You can murder the freedom fighter but you can’t murder freedom.” Vilified for their role in trying to bring about equality, the Black Panthers found themselves fighting an uphill battle against the authorities. Desperate to maintain the established order, this party fought back and were punished for doing so.

Despite the prestige and attention surrounding Judas and the Black Messiah, this movie is not actually about Fred Hampton. Despite Kaluuya’s undeniably charismatic role, the spotlight falls on the “Judas” of this tale, Bill O’Neal.

Caught impersonating a police officer, Bill is put in a difficult position by FBI Agent Mitchell and J. Edgar Hoover. With the Black Panther Party gaining momentum – and crucial public acceptance – the duo task him with infiltrating the party. Quickly rising up the security ranks, Bill is blackmailed into feeding back crucial intel that can be used to mount a counter-offensive against this “terrorist” organization.

Of course, that’s easier said than done and as Bill starts to get to know these men and women, he inevitably winds up conflicted.

The film itself is incredibly well acted and both Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield help elevate this biographical drama. Kaluuya in particular is sublime as Chairman Fred Hampton, with some of his speeches likely to send goosebumps down your spine. They’re really well written. In fact, these speeches essentially serve as the thread that holds this movie together.

There’s a really interesting dynamic shift with Bill every time Fred rallies the people. All of this builds up to a moving speech, with the mantra of “I Am A Revolutionary” actually repeated by Bill himself. It’s a subtle inclusion but one that works incredibly well in the context of the film – and its central characters.

Where the film is less successful however, is in its character development for the supporting players. There are a lot of different members of the party but none of them really get that much time in the spotlight. While it’s understandable, given the emphasis on both Fred and Bill’s struggle, it still would have been nice to see that extra layer of depth.

For those familiar with this story, Judas and the Black Messiah pulls no punches. There’s no distortion of history or crazy twists, this is quite simply an important chapter in history that’s retold as faithfully as possible.

This is a tale of revenge, greed, xenophobia and love, one that builds up to a shocking and thought provoking climax meant to be pondered long after the theatre lights turn on.

On the same note of praise, this movie just so happens to have the best trailer of any picture released in 2021 so far. Even if you don’t get around to watching this flick, please watch the trailer above because it really is stunning.

Overall though, Judas and the Black Messiah is an informative and important drama well worth checking out. While it is a little slow at times and could have done with some depth for the supporting characters, this is a timely and important biopic nonetheless.

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  • Verdict - 8/10

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