Monday, June 24, 2024

Review: “Judas and the Black Messiah” is the Brilliant Adjunct to “Trial of the Chicago 7”


If you’ve already seen Aaron Sorkin’s excellent “Trial of the Chicago 7” on Netflix you know that early on, Fred Hampton– head of the Chicago Black Panthers– is killed after being of help to the men on trial. In this movie, Hampton is played by Kelvin Harrison, and you immediately miss him.

In Shaka King’s “Judas and the Black Messiah,” also excellent, we hear the adjunct story of Hampton and what led to his murder. Daniel Kaluuya, who made a splash in “Get Out,” is phenomenal as Hampton, the so-called Black Messiah. But he’s brought down, in a true enough story, by William O’Neal, a police informant who’s sympathetic to the cause but primarily interested in his own survival. LaKeith Stanfield is riveting as O’Neal, who the audience struggles to like.

With these two actors leading the story, we have an abundance of riches. Since everyone is focused now on awards season, I’d put Kaluuya in lead and Stanfield in supporting. They give two exceptional performances.

But there’s more at stake here than awards season. What we’re seeing is the dismantling of J. Edgar Hoover, the corrupt head of the corrupt FBI who used his power to try and destroy Black people and the civil rights movement. Racist doesn’t begin to describe him. Hoover’s already had many movies made about him, and he’s always a villain. But Martin Sheen, with a lot of prosthetic makeup, does his best to convey Hoover’s evil as he dogs the Panthers, especially Hampton, literally to death.

Aiding Hoover is FBI agent Roy Mitchell, who turns O’Neal and is proud of it. Mitchell is a villain, too, make no mistake, but Plemons– in his second terrific turn of the season (see “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”) makes Mitchell unexpectedly palatable.

“Judas”and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” are must see films now, especially for young people, in light of current politics, Black Lives Matter, and so on. This all happened in 1969, and not much has changed. That’s really what’s frightening.


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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