‘Judas and the Black Messiah‘ is a biopic directed and produced by Shaka King, who also co-wrote the screenplay. Movie director Ryan Coogler also co-produced it. It was released exclusively on HBO Max for streaming.
At the tail end of the 1960s, Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) is working under orders from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) to stop activist Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), chairman of the Chicago branch of the Black Panther Party from forming his “rainbow coalition” and spread socialism. To infiltrate them, Mitchell intimidates William “Bill” O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) into joining them and acting as an informant. While inside, Bill gains Fred’s trust, along with Hampton’s girlfriend Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback). He eventually rises through the ranks and becomes head of security. At first, Fred seems to relish being a spy for the FBI, but soon finds the violence from both sides is putting him in way over his head.
The movie is very well made and the story does grip you. In a time when America was in the throes of turmoil, you had this tension from law enforcement and citizens that would often explode. This movie tells one of these stories and it does it in a very impressive way, with intrigue and heart. Not a detail was overlooked as far as writing, character development, or music. On that note, I thought that Mark Isham and Craig Harris do not hold back on the score. It complimented the film in an excellent way.
I cannot understate the performances. All of the principal stars do an excellent job with their roles, putting their best foot forward. Now, Martin Sheen did not resemble the grandiose figure that was J. Edgar Hoover, but for his interpretation of the character, he performed in a decent way.
The main issue is with the revision of history. While it does briefly touch on this, it avoids how several socialist organizations broke from the BPP after the FBI created fake pamphlets and anonymous letters, yet the film suggests a united front of socialistic organizations. This rosy image of socialists all holding hands and standing against the “man” was pure fiction. Socialist orgs often split and sometimes their divide escalated to bloody violence.
Likewise, the film claims that a guilt-ridden O’Neil committed suicide after watching a documentary of himself, which seems to be supported by a coroner. That being said, some in his family seemed to believe that he did not kill himself and O’Neil’s own words dispute this narrative that he had any loyalty to the BPP. It plays fast and loose with a few other facts as most biopics do.
Bottom line, Judas and the Black Messiah is a compelling biopic that does take certain liberties with the history it is telling, but I would not be surprised if we see it as an Oscar contender in the future.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Strong foul language, Strong violence
FAVORITE QUOTE: A badge is scarier than a gun… sir.
Check out the trailer below:
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