Aronne Ibarra’s review published on Letterboxd:
The second film of my unplanned Black History Month-themed watches today is devastating, powerful, and brilliant. The hype for Shaka King's Judas and the Black Messiah has been big over the last week and I only found out about this film just recently. I jumped the chance to see it today and I totally get the hype. And Chicago 7 can go fuck itself.
"Judas and the Black Messiah" is the kind of a movie name that makes me want to watch the film that interesting title is slapped on. It's also a perfectly-fitting one. The Biblical parallels make for a poetic and engrossing telling of a story often overlooked in American history. The film follows 21-year-old revolutionary socialist and chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party Fred Hampton through his 'Black Messianic' rise to power and eventual assassination, aided by the Judas of the parable, a young William 'Bill' O'Neal who enlisted in the Black Panthers and served as an FBI informant.
Even I don't know this part of history and thank God for films like this that bring these near-forgotten events to light. Judas and the Black Messiah is an excellent biopic and one that holds importance and reflection especially with the persistent racial injustice in America today.
After the unjust murders of black leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, the black youth were more than discontent of the ugly situation they found themselves in, so they took it upon themselves to engage in activism and revolution. To be honest with you, I don't know how to talk about the politics of this movie since I'm not the most reliable person in my knowledge of idealisms and movements and those kind of stuff. What I noticed is Judas and the Black Messiah doesn't try to whitewash Hampton's socialist ideas and lots of debates and complexities in the characters and the stories come from this. Again, I'll dodge the politics but overall, this was a very engaging and enthralling viewing.
Whether Hampton is glorified as a hero despite his radicalism that can be seen as a threat to the order of the current government barely concerns me, though I completely understand this can make or break the film's agenda for some. I myself think the idealisms play a massive role in the story's conflicts but I prefer to veer off those things because of my humiliatingly subpar political knowledge. So just know that on a dramatic and artistic standpoint, I enjoyed this a lot.
Speaking of the drama, Judas and the Black Messiah never lets up. It's intense, thrilling, at times powerfully inspiring, sad, and angering. It's a rollercoaster of emotion that puts you through one fascinating scenario to another. In the end, you'll be left a little drained but you'll feel like you've learned an important history lesson with some things to reflect on.
And about the art, I love how this movie is so beautifully shot. Every shot looks really good and the scenes are composed super nicely. It's also well-written, edited, and scored. Credits to Shaka King's amazing direction! His creative decision-making really shows and I'll surely be keeping my eyes on him from now on. This was a very good feature that can hopefully pick up some hardware this awards season.
Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, what can I say? These two men never fail to hold my attention when they're acting, and in Judas and the Black Messiah, they come through with career-best performances. I'm so happy about the trajectory their careers are taking and I can trust these guys-- phenomenal actors-- to keep those stars rising and shining. I also like the addition of Jesse Plemons and Martin Sheen. Nothing but praise for the whole cast.
I don't have a lot of issues with the film. Most of my issues come with the lack of dramatic focus given to Stanfield's character. The film does give attention to O'Neal's betrayal and guilt but I felt like it didn't reach its full potential. Hampton can also feel like a one-dimensional hero revolutionary who lacks depth as a fully-complex and completely-realized character. The romance also felt a little out of place for me. But for the most part, this was a surprisingly masterful and bold outing from Shaka King.
Yeah, I hesitated to talk about the socialism, capitalism, Marxism, that type of shit because I wanted to avoid saying something wrong or overly political that would spark another fierce unending debate in the comments. And please, good people of LB, I don't want another war in the comments. Wanted to take this time to appreciate this film on a more cinematic point of view, and in that regard you should totally check this film out and form your own opinion. As for me, Judas and the Black Messiah is a really good movie and I may need another watch when it hits me.
Black Lives Matter! Thanks for your time take care, everyone.