Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★★½

A man who understands the burden of life and its consequences; an adrenaline junkie playing life as a game; and a manipulative bureaucrat desperate to please his boss.

Shaka King's creative vision is clear as soon as the film begins, as he radiates a certain realism and authenticity that only someone with a true attachment to this material could manifest. The opening scenes evoke the atmosphere and filth of 1970s cinema, immersing the viewer in this sordid story and setting the stage for the morally ambiguous anarchy that follows.

Easily two of the most exciting actors currently in the business, every time Kaluuya and Stanfield turn in a performance it's a new career best. Daniel Kaluuya commandingly plays Fred Hampton, a twinkle of youth in his eye and an aura of arrogance, that disappears gradually throughout as he becomes a man. Lakeith Stanfield, in a tremendously layered performance, remains a boy throughout, playing it all like a game even when it no longer is one, refusing any blame all the way to the end. Rather than being a tribute to Hampton or a direct condemnation of O'Neal's betrayal, the film presents both men with equal weight. The film's passion, intensity and outrage are on full display, but King takes a controlled approach so that it's not just aimless anger but a series of strategies and battles. "War is politics with violence; politics is war without violence." But it's an unfair fight; "A badge is scarier than a gun."

Film is power.

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