Sam Meltzer’s review published on Letterboxd:
Judas and the Black Messiah is about progression. Progression revolving around racial issues in America, characters’ decisions, and power. Lakeith Stanfield plays Bill O’Neal, an emotionally confused man whose morals become seemingly different over time. From one of the opening scenes, we see that he appears to be a trickster. A man who wants social justice but whose actions do not always justify his motives. He leads people to believe that they are thieves while he tricks them into giving him a car. His character arc is beautiful, transforming from a man who lacks the confidence to one who embraces his situation and fights for his rights. Daniel Kaluuya plays Fred Hampton, the core of this powerful story. Hampton is a man who is constantly promoting strength and equality for his people. His character is richly layered and compelling, which allows the audience to fully connect with him.
The “I am a revolutionary” scene is one of the most moving scenes in recent cinematic history. The cheering, screaming, and clapping from the crowd, Hampton’s use of words and tone of voice, the setting that feels so vast and, the snappy editing makes you feel alive. It’s a truly spectacular scene in both a thematic and filmmaking sense. Shaka King has a true vision and voice as a director, with this being an excellent addition to a filmography that I can see going on for a long time. He understands both the genre and message of his film so well because it’s certainly a personal story. The cinematography, while it may not appear to be anything special, is very symbolic of the down-to-earth and realistic feel of the film. Now, I didn’t love the pacing here. Some scenes were certainly more engaging than others and at times, I could feel that a scene needed to be shortened. Minor issues in the pacing didn’t really detract from the experience for me, but I couldn’t feel as if I could ignore these problems either. This could definitely be fixed on a rewatch or the more I think about the film.
Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya are some of the most promising young actors (haha see what I did there) of the current day, and showcase true talent here. Their performances are raw and complicated, constantly fascinating and unique to themselves. Kaluuya should absolutely be the frontrunner to win Best Supporting Actor this year, no one else really comes close. While it could be argued that he is the lead, he is not only the ‘object’ of the story but also is already being campaigned in supporting so, Kaluuya for the win!
This is currently on HBO max so if you’re looking for a liberating, uplifting, and powerful film, you know where to look. Even though the pacing was a bit distracting at times, Judas and the Black Messiah was a really good film that deserves to be in the conversation.