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JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH gets 7/10 Undercover panther

Directed by Shaka King
Starring LaKeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Daniel Kaluuya


Based on real events in the late 1960s when the Black Panthers were generating intense controversy and support, Judas and the Black Messiah is a film that firmly plants you in its tumultuous era. Through terrifically engaged acting and very confident directing, this film pays respects to this important time in recent history, even if it doesn’t quite generate the tension or emotional resonance as it could’ve.

After an impersonation crime gone wrong, William (LaKeith Stanfield) is given a chance by FBI Officer Roy (Jesse Plemons) to have his sentence reduced if he acts as an informant for the Black Panthers. His key target is the leader of their Illinois chapter, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), as he tries to scope out this party, not only to determine if they have any terrorist plans, but also to give valuable intel to the FBI and police – so they can enact their own pre-emptive terrorism against them.

This film offers an exciting and fairly riveting overview of this story. With plenty of recreated footage of William himself and politically charged archival footage from this era, the film manages to immerse you in this world in this time. The acting from all seems fine, though it’s Kaluuya who excels, with his fiery and determined presence as this leader, who totally encapsulates and portrays the clear leadership this young man had.

This is very confidently directed, as well as very plainly laying out each scene and moment, clearly showing this world of the Black Panthers. It’s particularly in moments of violence that the film excels, and disturbs, in the way it shows the war-like conflicts this group had with the police and the FBI. But the film never lets a situation get increasingly tightened and more intense, where covers may been blown (like in Blackkklansman), so this isn’t quite the film to get your palms sweaty.

Judas and the Black Messiah is a well done historical film about recent history, though the plainness and assertiveness of how it presents itself is both admirable and detracting: it has little pretensions in how it presents this era, yet it also feels detached and unemotional at times because of this. Such a part of US history is worthy of being put on the cinema screen, especially one so clear minded like this one, but it doesn’t quite dig enough to really reveal the people behind this tumultuous time.


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