Judas and the Black Messiah begins in Chicago, 1968, with criminal Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield – Uncut Gems, Death Note) pretending to work for the FBI so he can walk into a bar and arrest a young black men, yet really just wants to steal his car. Quite enterprising, rather than just doing it via the ownership of a gun, but not so bright when things don’t go to plan and he’s pulled over by the police.
However, he’s offered an alternative to jail: to be a paid informant for the FBI, infiltrating Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers – led by Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya – Sicario, Get Out) – so he can see what they’re up to, in terms of their next moves to attempt to overthrow the US government, along with teaming up with other gangs to form a ‘Rainbow Coalition’, all these actions leading to Roy likening the Panthers to the Ku Klux Klan. We see the process of joining one particular gang – The Crowns, but they’re a fictional creation for this film, so I’m not sure why they didn’t use the names of real gangs, as opposed to the real Fred Hampton linking up with gangs including The Young Lords and The Young Patriots.
Amongst all this, Hampton states he knows they might all die – similar to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X – but as he says, “At least they died for the people. We should be so lucky!”
Given how he’s jailed for trumped-up charges at one point, whilst also falling for Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback), who goes on to bear his child, you do feel perhaps he should reign things in a bit, so he can actually be around for his offspring. As for how things turn out in that respect, if you don’t know already, you’ll need to watch this to find out.
There’s concerns that they’ve got a rat in the house, leading you to wonder when/if they’ll suspect it’s actually O’Neal, plus an unrecognisable Martin Sheen does a nice turn as President J Edgar Hoover, who’s sick of Hampton’s actions and wants him stamped out for good, by fair means or foul.
Topping and tailing Judas and the Black Messiah is a documentary, Eyes On The Prize 2, recorded in 1989 and shown on PBS on January 15th 1990, being interviewed by an unknown face, asking what made him think he could trust Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons – I’m Thinking Of Ending Things), along with other questions. It’s interesting to note that the film starts with Stanfield in that role, before showing a segment of the real O’Neal, towards the end.
Overall, both Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield are superb in their powerful roles, and the film starts fairly strong, but as it continues on, I figured that as the movement grew stronger, the film would do the same. However, there’s battles between the Hampton’s side and the cops, and as losses are felt on both sides, so the film also loses momentum.
Judas and the Black Messiah has yet to be released in the UK, but was released in the US on HBO Max on February 12th. I understand the UK date would’ve been February 26th, but that appears to have been put back for now, given that there’s no cinemas open for a while yet. Once I have a date for it, I will post it here.
The film is not yet available to pre-order on Blu-ray or DVD.
Running time: 126 minutes
Release date: UK: TBA; US: February 12th 2021
Studio: Warner Bros / HBO Max
Format: 2.39:1 (ARRIRAW (4.5K))
Director: Shaka King
Producers: Ryan Coogler, Charles D King, Shaka King
Screenplay: Will Berson, Shaka King
Based on the Story: Will Berson, Shaka King, Kenny Lucas, Keith Lucas
Music: Craig Harris, Mark Isham
Fred Hampton: Daniel Kaluuya
Bill O’Neal: LaKeith Stanfield
Roy Mitchell: Jesse Plemons
Deborah Johnson: Dominique Fishback
Jimmy Palmer: Ashton Sanders
Jake Winters: Algee Smith
Bobby Rush: Darrell Britt-Gibson
Wayne: Lil Rel Howery
Judy Harmon: Dominique Thorne
J. Edgar Hoover: Martin Sheen
Collins: Amari Cheatom
Steel: Khris Davis
Doc Satchel: Ian Duff
Bob Lee: Caleb Eberhardt
Leslie Carlyle: Robert Longstreet
Betty Coachman: Amber Chardae Robinson
Walter Hicks: Ikechukwu Ufomadu
Compton: James Udom
Fesperman: Nick Fink
Tex: Mell Bowser
Mrs. Winters: Alysia Joy Powell
José Cha Cha Jiménez: Nicholas Velez
Anthony Timmons: Ajani Aj Carr
George Sams: Terayle Hill
Pool Hall Bartender: Tommy Lafitte
Darlene: Crystal Lee Brown
College Student: China Shavers
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.