The story is infuriating — not in the way King presents it, not at all, but in its details. The manipulation of justice is heartbreaking. Though sadness isn't what you'll most likely feel while watching. Anger is. The betrayal in Judas and the Black Messiah extends far beyond the title character, making it an even greater tragedy.
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Magnetic with righteous fury, Kaluuya plays Hampton with steel-plated conviction that has no time for half-measures. The gifted actor maintains a strict demeanor in scenes speaking truth to the people but a more calibrated mien in the ones exhibiting Hampton’s diplomatic skills, like a meeting with the Crowns, a fellow revolutionary group.
Buoyed by a trio of standout performances, this freshly resonant thriller brings urgent life to one of the Black Panther movement’s greatest tragedies.
As reinforced by every capacious widescreen frame of Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography, the movie is both a portrait and a panorama, a story about Black self-determination as an individual and collective enterprise.
Mostly, though, it’s Kaluuya and Stanfield — two actors who seem destined to be hailed for career-best turns with every subsequent project — who make Judas and the Black Messiah such an incendiary watch.
Although Stanfield and Kaluuya offer up two compelling—and contrasting—performances, Judas And The Black Messiah is an ensemble piece with no weak links, only secret weapons.
Black Messiah's center of gravity has to be a Hampton you can't look away from, and Kaluuya — alternately raw, tender, and incendiary — duly electrifies every scene he's in. Righteous as the road may be, his Fred hasn't been flattened to fit the broad Wikipedia-worn contours of a martyr or a hero; he lives and breathes, down to the last indelible frame.
Judas and the Black Messiah is my kind of dramatized Chicago history. It’s a real movie, for one thing — brash, narratively risky, full of life and sneaky wit (even if the dominant tone is one of foreboding) and brimming with terrific actors.
It’s a powerful tale of human frailty.
King comes so close to rendering Hampton’s life and legacy anew for a younger generation. But for all of the film’s eloquent crafts and the audacious performances from a deep ensemble, which includes an under-sung Dominique Thorne as Black Panther member Judy Harmon, Judas And The Black Messiah doesn’t fully encapsulate either its Judas or its messiah.