Director: Shaka King. Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Daniel Kaluuya, Jesse Plemons. Rated R. Color. 126 Minutes.
The Black Lives Matter movement in modern society is a very important thing and the right thing to do. Yet it pales in comparison to what blacks went through during Civil Rights. This wasn’t all peaceful protests, some of it was all out war. “Judas and the Black Messiah” shows in grave, bloody detail what that war was like when groups like the Black Panther Party had to take up heavy artillery because they were simply tired of getting killed for no reason.
Young Billy O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) is arrested after using a fake ID and attempting to steal a car. He faces five years in prison. Sitting in an interview room, a baby faced special agent named Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) walks in. He offers a deal to Billy, either serve time or infiltrate the Chicago branch of the Black Panther Party and report back to him. Billy accepts, not knowing what he is getting into.
So why this particular group? Because it is being ran by one of the most influential civil rights leaders in the area, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). Hampton is a powerful speaker, leader, and is bringing more and more to his cause everyday. Rival groups are gravitating towards his cause while the chapter also does work in the community by joining with the BPP Free Breakfast For Children Program. It becomes increasingly hard for Billy to be an infiltrator, but he also doesn’t want to go to jail. But this group is growing on him.
Hampton also falls in love with Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback), and together they become the frontline couple of the movement. Hampton continues showing his power of speech and even goes to a white supremacist meeting, walking out with several members converting to their cause. The white authorities are getting afraid, so they arrest him for no reason. After that the informant O’Neal becomes some what of a leader. With the group in disarray the police brutality sky rockets. Killing in the streets and even blowing up the panther headquarters are just a few of the things
Once out of prison, Hampton does not miss a beat despite his now pregnant wive’s displeasure. This results in even more brutal violence and senseless death. Billy wants out, but the FBI warns him that if he leaves it will be prison. Billy must make a choice as he has become so involved in the party and what they stand for.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” pulls no punches in showing what it really looked like. Shootouts are brutal and often come out of nowhere. The cinematography by Sean Bobbitt is visceral, reminiscent of battle scenes in great war movie. The two male leads are both excellent but it is Daniel Kaluuya who is the absolute powerhouse. His words stick with you long after viewing.
I have two complaints. One, the movie has so many powerful scenes but it just never lets up. It could have at least given us some time to reflect. The only time we have that is slow conversations, which leads me to my second point. It does seem to drag a bit despite being so powerful. Those very down moments simply did not resonate the same way in which the rest of the film does.
No doubting that “Judas and the Black Messiah” is a powerful and important film. It will tear your guts out and remind you that things could always be way worse by showing what injustice really looks like.