WHAT'S IT ABOUT

The story of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), a charismatic community leader and rising star in the leadership of the Black Panthers in the late 1960s, and his betrayal by FBI informant Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield).

What did we think

  1. Peter Linning February 24, 2021

    Judas and the Black Messiah is part thriller and part biographical drama, using the story of Bill O'Neal being strongarmed into informing for the FBI as a framing device to enter the world of the Black Panthers revolutionary struggle - revolution being the operative word. Unlike most other films that deal with issues of social justice and race relations in America, this isn't a palatable "fight for equality" fable. Judas and the Black Messiah doesn't flinch in its portrayal of Hampton as a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary, nor in casting the FBI in a thoroughly villainous light.

    Kaluuya is positively electrifying as Hampton, effortlessly holding your attention when speaking at rallies or verbally sparring with his unlikely allies, but also portraying him as a quiet, measured, and almost shy young man when he's with his confidants or girlfriend Deb (Dominique Fishback). Fishback is the other standout, delivering an understated performance that perfectly complements Kaluuya.

    I'm a long-time fan of Lakeith Stanfield, and while he portrays the palpable anxiety and torment of the character effectively, his performance is almost a bit too much when put alongside the rest of the cast's more naturalistic performances. There are also a few issues with the script, with too much attention being given to O'Neal and the FBI for not enough payoff, and a completely unnecessary Martin Sheen as a cartoonish J. Edgar Hoover but these are minor flaws in an otherwise excellent film.

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