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Judas and the Black Messiah
Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir Shaka King
scr Will Berson, Shaka King
prd Ryan Coogler, Charles D King, Shaka King
with Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Martin Sheen, Ashton Sanders, Algee Smith, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, Dominique Thorne, Amari Cheatom, Khris Davis
release US 12.Feb.21,
21/US Warners 2h06
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A blistering true story set at the height of the Black power movement, this stylish drama captures the passion of people who are tired of being oppressed. The film is finely directed by Shaka King to evoke the period, finding humour and horror in equal measure. A sense of urgency sustains the story over its long running time, and complex performances from Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield keep it resonant.
In 1968 Chicago, the charismatic Fred Hampton (Kaluuya) is a rising-star leader among the local Black Panthers. Listening to his inspiring lectures is FBI informant Bill O'Neal (Stanfield), who reports back to his handler Roy (Plemons) that the Panthers aren't actually the terrorists J Edgar Hoover (Sheen) insists they are. When Fred reaches out to other groups who are also being oppressed by the police, the FBI cracks down with a series of escalating actions. This pushes Bill into a very dangerous corner, as he's asked to betray friends and a cause he now supports.
The literate script explores political issues in fiery oratory and quietly pointed conversations, catching various perspectives. So the way FBI officials target Fred without cause is horrifying, as is the encroaching violence, fuelled by the arrogant, racist police force. Even the worst conflicts, such as a vicious shootout, are depicted with unflinching, honest authenticity. And each of the actors locates the humanity within his or her character in a range of funny, tense, emotional situations.
Kaluuya is a force of nature, relentlessly intense but never losing Fred's emotional depth. His rousing speeches make us want to stand up and cheer; it's easy to see why people follow Fred. And he shows a vulnerable side in his relationship with Deborah, engagingly played by the sparky, eloquent Fishback. In a tough role, Stanfield finds soulful layers as an impostor caught in an impossible position. His deception isn't sympathetic, but his predicament is involving, as it's clear what he believes is right. Meanwhile, Sheen is gleefully vile as the ruthless Hoover.
The film eloquently points out that the only difference between politics and war is the amount of bloodshed. When officials argue that prison isn't a harsh enough punishment, it's easy to understand why cruelly marginalised people feel the only option is revolution. Indeed, the gangster-style policing is utterly reprehensible, and King makes us feel the emotional impact of each bullet. So both the on-screen epilogues and the situation half a century later are seriously chilling.
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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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