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At the Movies With Mark Ziobro

Judas and the Black Messiah 

a Captivating Biopic Thriller Filled with Pictorial Intensity

History is one of the vital aspects of life that helps us understand a country’s state of mind and situation. Simultaneously, film plays a crucial role in educating and revealing history from a different perspective. Such films help us to understand the culture of the situation that leads and progresses to modern time.  The recently released film “Judas and the Black Messiah” is such a film, and another addition to the crucial historical culture of the 1960s.

   “Judas and the Black Messiah” is set in 1968 in Chicago, where a young man named Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) gets arrested for impersonating a Federal agent and stealing a car. In an exchange with the agent he impersonated, when asked him why he did not use the gun, O’Neal replies to him that “a badge is scarier than a gun.” Seeing the opportunity in the situation, FBI agent Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) offers him a deal: They will take off the six and half years of jail time in a trade-off. O’Neal must join the Black Panther Party and notify the FBI about its chairman, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), who J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) feels is a danger to the Nation. As the story progresses, we see how Hampton works to accumulate potentiality through the Black Panthers. At the same time, O’Neal plays his role to gather inside information he can sell to the Feds.  The consequence of both individuals forms the story and lets us decide which side we wish to support.

   The film is set when the United States was still reeling from Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. At the time, riots swayed Robert F. Kennedy and the country. Peace protests took over university campuses. The Vietnam War was droning on. With all of this in the background, Writer/Director Shaka King puts his unadulterated cornerstone on the scrimmage between Federal law enforcement and the opposed African Americans—many of whom whose recurring slogan was “revolution is the only solution.”

   In telling an appealing truthful story, Director King and co-Writer Will Berson put the elements of surprise and unpredictability in their narrative. Although it is set in the 1960s, it reverberates with America’s modern culture with its chic biopic. It manages to achieve virtuous uniformity between manifest righteousness and infringement. In “Judas,” when a White FBI agent convinces his Black informant to collect surveillance on Panthers Chairman Fred Hampton, he states, “The Panthers and the Klan are one and the same. Their focus is to sow hatred and inspire terror.” This contradiction and gradation appends emotional heaviness to each sequence and makes them more intuitive and intriguing. This film could have easily fallen victim to prejudice; still, the script understands the issues and gives them their needed contemplation. It lets the viewers decide about the characters’ choices.

   What makes King’s direction and writing so strapping is that he showcases his character’s personalities like human beings, who are radically erroneous in their determinations and straight exertions. In the narrative, the FBI has O’Neal as their informant, and he gets paid and gets his get out of jail free card. On the other side, Fred Hampton calls for a vicious rebellion while thinking of the unprivileged African American youth.

   One of the more creative moves with story and crafting done by King is the framing of the story, and the call for empathy and understanding: viewers will view both O’Neal and Hampton with revelation and affinity, and likely wish for both protagonists to come out unharmed in the end. However, the story keeps us on the track that shows complication ahead that threatens to carry on with a trail of agony and bloodshed until it gets to its resulting endpoint.

   King receives excellent support from other departments, especially Sean Bobbitt, the film’s Cinematographer, who focuses on vast and close shots we can witness in many of the sequences. The production from Sam Lisenco and Charlese Antoinette Jone’s costumes help with the detailed setting of the 1960s, while the accompanying score of Mark Isham and Craig Harris gives the film its needed immersive impact. The picture’s overall effort is powerfully brought to light through Shaka King’s sedate direction as he brazenly apprehends the scrambled poetry intrinsic to an insurrection.

   Daniel Kaluuya here delivers a powerful performance in portraying Fred Hampton with his perfect elocution and stirring execution. He becomes a mirror image of the young leader, who stirs up and influences both he and O’Neal at the same moment. From the first sequence until the end, we see Kaluyya fit perfectly under the Hampton personality; his striking resemblance and imitation make his performance memorable and deserving of reward.

   LaKeith Stanfield, as a young thief with a constant conflict between himself and the Black community, is flawless, giving one of his career’s remarkable performances, which people will keep in mind. Jesse Plemons as agent Roy Mitchell is terrific and stands out in his own way. His body language sets the right tone for the complexity of his role. Martin Sheen has showcased the hard-hearted and devious Hoover perfectly. Dominique Fishback as Deborah, is perfect along with the rest of the cast, which helps the story reach its cinematic brilliance.

  “Judas and the Black Messiah” is a compelling biographical historical thriller. It has all one can hope for, from the beguiling story to the star cast’s outstanding and electric performances. The film’s substantial accomplishment is that it provides a grand showcase and lets viewers decide their thought. The occurrence displayed in the movie will stay long with you, as it feels shockingly timely and admissible. Shaka King finely showcases one of history’s darkest chapters, not only incontrovertible and engrossing, but also decidedly riveting.

“Judas and the Black Messiah” had its premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.  You can watch the movie now on HBO Max.




Utica Phoenix Staff
Utica Phoenix Staff
The Utica Phoenix is a publication of For The Good, Inc., a 501 (c) (3) in Utica, NY. The Phoenix is an independent newsmagazine covering local news, state news, community events, and more. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and also check out Utica Phoenix Radio at 95.5 FM/1550 AM, complete with Urban hits, morning talk shows, live DJs, and more.

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