Bill O’Neal infiltrates the Black Panther Party per FBI Agent Mitchell and J. Edgar Hoover. As Party Chairman Fred Hampton ascends, falling for a fellow revolutionary en route, a battle wages for O’Neal’s soul.
‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ is a film about Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Black Panther Party, from his perspective and from the perspective of the man who would go on to betray him to the FBI. It’s a tense cat and mouse thriller and the dual viewpoints enhance the way director Shaka King tells this story, with Daniel Kaluuya (as Hampton) and LaKeith Stanfield (as his betrayer William O’Neal) both terrific. It also explores the role of the FBI in disrupting the activities of civil rights group, with often tragic consequences that no one paid the price for.
Taking place in the late 1960s, ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ shows how petty criminal O’Neal was recruited by the FBI, and how he grappled with his conscience at what he was being asked to do. It’s a tragic tale with shades of ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’, and weight is lended to the way this plays out by the performances of Kaluuya and Stanfield. Kaluuya came to wider attention with his performance in Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’ and there are few actors with such expression in their face as him, putting it to good use here to show the charisma that Hampton had. Stanfield in many respects has a more challenging role, portraying a coward who has to maintain a façade to keep his cover, and I felt the film was at its best when it got inside O’Neal’s head and allowed the internal conflict to play out.
I did feel that the film was overly sympathetic to Hampton and it glosses over some of the activities he and his party were involved in, however this is standard fare for most biopics, and it doesn’t take away from the central premise the movie is exploring. ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ is an entertaining thriller with good performances all round, and I really enjoyed it.
Directed By: Shaka King
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Algee Smith, Ashton Sanders, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, Dominique Thorne and Martin Sheen