Judas and the Black Messiah: The Best Picture of the Year?/by Bryan Matthews
In a film year plagued by rescheduling, low box office numbers, and limited releases, there weren’t many bright points in the industry this time around. However, Warner Bros., through the help of their partner HBO Max, managed to give us a riveting true story account of Fred Hampton and the social revolution attempt in Chicago during the Civil Rights era.
Judas and the Black Messiah takes us into the streets and into the lives of these characters, showing just how much you must be willing to sacrifice if you want to change the status quo.
This film has three of the great modern talents of our day. First, Daniel Kaluuya plays the character of Fred Hampton perfectly and is, in my opinion, a no-brainer for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar this year. His charisma and gravitas exudes off the screen. By the end of one of his monologues, the audience is completely captivated. If you’ve seen the trailer for this film, just imagine that he stays at that level of emotional intensity – whether he’s falling in love, grieving over loss, or giving a speech – through the entire film. It’s the best performance I saw this past year.
Second, LaKeith Stanfield plays the character of Bill O’Neal, a man who is hired by the FBI to spy on Hampton – the Judas. Stanfield has also been nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar alongside his Messianic counterpart, but in my opinion, he is outshined by Kaluuya. While his performance is good, the acting itself makes an underutilized character feel more alive than maybe it should. The film is a story about Hampton first before it is a story about O’Neal, and the same can be said for the actors – Kaluuya over Stanfield.
The last of the big three is Jesse Plemons. Plemons plays Roy Mitchell, an FBI agent who watches over Stanfield’s character and gives him orders. Plemons has done amazing work in the past, but this character did not give Plemons enough substance to bring it to the next level. In the past, Plemons has a unique way of making supporting characters extremely memorable – season five of Breaking Bad, The Irishman, and another 2020 release in I’m Thinking of Ending Things to name a few. However, the script gives him little to work with, but he makes the most of it. Seeing him on screen for a second time in one year is a treat even if his character isn’t one for the ages and ventures into cliché.
The film has garnered a lot of praise over its limited release and stint on HBO Max. It has received five Oscar nominations, including the two already mentioned above. On top of the acting accolades, the film has been nominated for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. From a technical standpoint, this film is near perfection. The directing and camera work are both superb. As stated before, the acting is the shining part of this film. My only hope is that votes do not get split between Kaluuya and Stanfield, resulting in a loss for the film. It will be exciting to see how it turns out and what both of these brilliant actors will do next. In short, to see a film as important as this one receive this kind of recognition is heartwarming.
While it is not a perfect movie, it does a superb job of bringing to light many things that we should still be talking about – things that were being talked about when the real Fred Hampton walked the streets of Chicago. The idea that racism and bigotry is gone in America and abroad is a figment of our imagination. It deserves just as much time and devotion as religion, and the love shown by Christ to the people of his time should be what we strive to do. What Fred Hampton strove to do. This film is necessary, and the people behind it did a great job of portraying just how much of a necessity being aware really is.