Judas & The Black Messiah
Starring Daniel Kaluuya,Lakeith Stanfield,Jesse Plemons,Dominique Fishback,Martin Sheen
Directed by Shaka King
If I had to choose one word to describe this passionate but pale film on the Black Power movement, it would have to be ‘overrated’. If I had to choose two words it would be ‘terribly overrated’. Firstly, we’ve lately suffered an overkill of films about Black Power and racism. This could be reflective the American reality post the death of Black man by the police that shook the world’s conscience. These films attempt to put up a show of balanced arguments, but end up making the white characters look like the racists that they probably were. But then any movement, black or white, must have a dissenting perspective
In Judas & The Black Messiah, the Black Messiah is black activist Fred Hampton, who spearheaded the Black Panther movement in Chicago and was brought down by police brutality. As played by Daniel Kaluuya, Hampton comes across as more aloof, almost bored, rather than passionate. Kaluuya, who has been praised for his performance by western critics, is eminently inadequate in the role, so much so that we only have to believe what we are told about him.
Lakeith Stanfield as the ‘Judas’ from the title, the FBI infiltrator who betrays his black brothers is far more cogent in the tightly-wound cat-and-mouse game, though his role and character seems to owe a direct allegiance to Matt Damon in Martin Scorcese’s The Departed . Betrayal can be an awful guilt to bear.And we are told that the real Stanfield eventually committed suicide.
While the periodicity (the 1960s) registers itself in the plot with a nodding assurance,the narrative is groomed into a kind of cultivated crisis that doesn’t have a proper timeline or chronological progression in the film. It all appears highly sincere but not convincing enough. Part of the problem is the budget which seems to limit the depiction of mob sequences and the police-protester riots.
Director Shaka King’s inexperience in the epic universe shows in almost every frame. He is far more comfortable staging radical debates and dialogues indoors, or trying to capture the shy awkwardness between Hampton and his speechwriter Deborah(Dominique Fishbank) as they fall in love.
There is a savage police-protesters shootout at the end which will leave you gasping for breath. And not out of awe. But because it distils the act of atrocity by scaling down its visual scale.Judas & The Black Messiah could have been a much bigger and far more deeply affecting film than what it is: a call for justice in a voice that raises itself too high to serve its ambitions.