Young, gifted and black, Chairman Fred Hampton (as played by Daniel Kaluuya) is the charismatic leader of the Illinois Black Panther Party. Even only 21, Chairman Fred has a broader vision of 1060s Chicago and it’s this ambition that is frightening white America. Able to martial resources and forge real bonds across racial divides, this is clearly something that the FBI’s paranoid leader Edgar J Hoover cannot and will not tolerate. Yet how will they ensnare him? Enter William “Wild Bill” O’Neal as played by Lakeith Stanfield…
… an absorbing examination of temptation and regret.
In a time when a federal badge is scarier than a gun, Lakeith Stanfield‘s “Wild Bill” O’Neal is making a smart living boosting cars from unsuspecting black citizens. That is until he gets caught by Jesse Plemons‘s Roy Mitchell – who really is an FBI agent. Sensing an opportunity, Mitchell “convinces” Bill to infiltrate the Illinois Black Panther Party so as to avoid jail. Nestling up close to another masterclass in understatement, it’s quickly evident that Daniel Kaluuya’s performance as Fred Hampton is fantastically spot on. Espousing a mantra that focuses on land, bread, housing, education, justice and peace, his perfect intonation swiftly nails your belief that “he is a revolutionary” and his missives do carry a mega wattage of hope and belief.
Conversely, a heavily made-up Martin Sheen as Edgar J Hoover is having none of it. In a disconcerting series of scenes where The West Wing‘s former president sounds chillingly different as he racistly leans on Jesse Plemmons’s FBI agent Roy Mitchell. And it has to be said, that in another impressive step-away from previous supporting roles, Jesse Plemmons’s take on Roy’s super-slick-yet-detached FBI agent also delivers. Never really revealing whether he’s a card-carrying racist or another spider caught in the same web as Bill, Judas and The Black Messiah is a story of cat and mouse with plenty of mice on offer.
Caught between the seduction of a different future as posed by Chairman Fred and the gradual realisation as to the FBI’s bloody purpose, Lakeith Stanfield‘s Wild Bill balances fact with plausible fiction. Yet counterbalancing all this male positioning for the future of Chicago’s inner-city slums, is Dominique Fishback as Fred Hampton’s girlfriend. Unafraid and unabashed to question both Fred’s logic and intent, it’s her poetic subplot that really underscores the stakes at hand and emotionally counterpoints the future that will later play out.
Full of slight, biblical allegories, Shaka King‘s second feature is a title that never leans too hard on the good book. For when Bill’s damnation finally catches up to him, it’s a deliciously inverted double-cross that you really should have seen coming. As such, it will seal both his fate and your appreciation of this fine, fine dramatisation.
Aided by a superb soundtrack and other supporting performances throughout, Judas and The Black Messiah becomes another movie to join the conspiratorial ranks of The Assassination of Billy The Kid by The Coward Robert Ford, The Departed, and Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman for an absorbing examination of temptation and regret.