Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★

Maybe I'm too inured to the gimmickry spicings of recent *important* black movies - the stage boundary minimalism of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and "One Night in Miami", the enticing what-if hypothetical of "Miami", the B&W photography and two-person economy of "Malcolm & Marie", the fact that all three are very long conversations put to film, with virtually no bother of meaningful activity or plotting - because watching "Judas and the Black Messiah" was a lot more like facing down a plate of raw vegetables. We can respect the earnest technique of informing audiences about the life and death of Fred Hampton (I couldn't have told you his story before seeing the movie), recruiting certifiably exciting and proven young(ish) actors who know how to pick valuable projects to imbue the main roles with everything each of them is good at (doesn't get much better than Lakeith Stanfield, Daniel Kaluuya and Jesse Plemons leading the charge), and infusing it all with the psychological intensity and doomed melancholy of a fine Shakespearean tragedy...

...but it still ends up walking a beat we've crossed so many times before in movies. It's got "Donnie Brasco", it's got "The Irishman", "Malcolm X", "Milk", a million died-too-young true stories of notable historical figures where we see them excel at their life's work, share tender bonds with family and partners, feel the dread of dark clouds looming over their fate, sometimes bear witness to the inner conflict of their own personal Judases. And maybe you can still do all these things in an outstanding movie, but "Judas" checks them all off a list with obedient clockwork practicality and in somewhat broad, predictable rhythms. Captures some sense of Hampton's force and influence as I understand it, but largely plays like a dry history lesson; solid intentions but lacking artistry and depth.

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