Movie Review: Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

Screened at the Sundance Film Festival premiere prior to Feb. 12 theatrical and HBO Max streaming release.

Solemn, thoughtful and prescient in its modern parallels, Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah (B) is a vital history lesson set in 1960s Chicago headlined by Daniel Kaluuya as Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton and Lakeith Stanfield as car thief turned FBI informant William O’Neal, locked in an all-out battle of wills as political machinery moves to tamp down a social justice revolution. Both Kaluuya and Stanfield give mighty performances, particularly Stanfield who brings poignancy to an unsympathetic character, although the writing keeps both actors strangely at arm’s length from being as vivid or memorable as anticipated. Dominique Fishback brings a welcome emotional arch to the proceedings with her graceful demeanor; and Jesse Plemons and Martin Sheen provide grotesque faces of corruption. King lenses the film gorgeously with strong period detail but doesn’t quite capture the verve to make the movie a standout. After a lull, the final act features some punch for sure. It’s a tragic American saga with profound lessons to impart and is just short of rising to epic stature.

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