“Judas and the Black Messiah” is the best movie I have seen this year — and it isn’t even close.
This movie tells the story of Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and the FBI’s COINTELPRO operation against him. Daniel Kaluuya portrays Hampton and Lakeith Stanfield co-stars as fellow Black Panther Party member William O’Neal.
Kaluuya’s performance is absolutely incredible. Hampton is a difficult role to play, especially when you factor in his public charisma and organizational and communal importance, but Kaluuya hits it out of the park. Not only does he channel that charisma on-screen, but he also has a palpable presence in every scene he is in, showcased in the clear effect his character has on others in the film. Kaluuya is best known for playing the lead in Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning 2017 film “Get Out,” which netted him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Kaluuya should be the frontrunner for winning this year’s Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (he was nominated in that category for the upcoming Golden Globes).
Stanfield is also incredible, bearing the burden of the emotional core of the film. Stanfield has arguably put up one of the best filmographies for any actor over the past four years, playing roles in critical-acclaimed movies like “Get Out,” 2018’s “Sorry to Bother You,” 2019’s “Uncut Gems” and “Knives Out,” and now this film. Attaching yourself to well-received projects is a key part of developing a successful acting career, and Stanfield has certainly done a great job in that department thus far. Still only 29 years of age, Stanfield is one to look out for in the future.
The writing also deserves much of the praise for the success of “Judas and the Black Messiah.” There are several dialogue sequences and monologues that are incredibly poignant and powerful, delivering messages that will ring in your ears after the movie is over. The plot is also well-structured, executing the story quite effectively with proper set-up, payoff and character arcs. With the strong story, the movie delivers many powerful messages about our past and modern world.
Another impressive part of “Judas and the Black Messiah” is Shaka King’s direction. King has had experience directing, but nothing comparable to the size of this project. He does an excellent job directing this picture, delivering some incredible sequences with fantastic visual framing. One character’s final shot is one of the best composed frames of any recent movie, with powerful emotional resonance.
In terms of my gripes with the film, the pacing could be a bit better in parts. There are a few scenes that feel a little disconnected from the rest of the picture. Though they are important in the greater context of the movie, they could’ve been executed more effectively. Additionally, a few of the action scenes are a little over-the-top, being too “action-movie-esque” in a film that works because of its grounded nature.
Nonetheless, this is still the best film of the year I have seen thus far, and is deserving of many nominations and wins come awards season. With its powerful messages, fantastic performances, and strong direction and cinematography, this film certainly earns a strong recommendation.