Director and co-screenwriter Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah features two great actors, Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, totally on fire.
Fred Hampton (Kaluuya), chairman of the Black Panther Party’s Illinois chapter, has become the focus of an FBI investigation led by J. Edgar Hoover (a heavily made-up Martin Sheen). Bill O’Neal (Stanfield), after getting himself into trouble, is enlisted by the FBI to inform on Hampton and the Panthers.
Via both powerful speeches and more-intimate moments, Kaluuya offers up some of his best work since Get Out (in which he also co-starred with Stanfield). King and Stanfield make the choice to not portray O’Neal as a complete snake, but as a messed-up guy who got his wires crossed with tragic consequences.
Jesse Plemons is typically strong as FBI Agent Roy Mitchell, the man who enlisted O’Neal and started him on the infiltration journey that led to O’Neal becoming a leader in Panther security. Mitchell was a catalyst in the eventual death of Hampton, as well as O’Neal, who died in an apparent suicide years later.
Judas and the Black Messiah qualifies as a 2020 release, and it’s one of the year’s better-looking films. Interestingly, the year offered up two film portrayals of Hampton; he’s also featured in the less-effective The Trial of the Chicago 7. King’s film gives Hampton’s history the screen time it deserves.
Judas and the Black Messiah is now streaming on HBO Max.