Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) film review

Fred Hampton’s supernatural ability to bring together potential enemies and rivals made him dangerous for an America too happy with the racist status quo. So he became another entry in the “Black Messiah” baptism contest that the FBI continued to award after the assassination of its former title contenders. Hampton would also be assassinated on December 4, 1969, exactly 20 months after the last “Black Messiah,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed. O’Neal was instrumental in facilitating this tragedy, providing the layout of the Hampton apartments and even doing some of the dirty work of the FBI hours before. Since he was a trusted confidant whose ultimate goal was betrayal, the biblical allusion in the title is appropriate.

Although not as fleshed out as Jesus in the Good Book, Judas remains perhaps the most important supporting figure in the Gospels. Here, however, Judas is technically the main one, which wouldn’t be a problem if director Shaka King and Will Berson’s script had made him as compelling as Hampton. Instead, much of the role languishes in scenes of a note between him and the FBI agent who holds jail time over his head. In the recess that opens the film, O’Neal appears in the PBS documentary, “Eyes On the Prize 2,” claiming that he trusted Mitchell and even saw him as a figure to emulate. Little of that comes through in the scenes between Plemons and Stanfield, although there are times it looks like the film can dig deeper into this strained relationship. A scene where Mitchell invites O’Neal to his house and offers him the right scotch is loaded with potential to examine how an act of implied white civility could engender trust; instead, the scene ends with an awkward dialogue about money.

We also spend too much time in the FBI. Despite the excellent photography by Sean Bobbitt and the editing by Kristan Sprague, these sequences are not as interesting as anything that features the Black Panthers and their goals. As “MLK / FBI” has shown, J. Edgar Hoover has taken an active role in trying to crush any kind of black attempt to force the country to achieve equality and take into account its racial and economic sins. Here, Hoover is played by Martin Sheen in so much makeup that he looks like a melted candle, and he gets the worst scene in the film, stopping the cold momentum with dialogue that references the Korean War, protecting his family. and the possibilities of Mitchell’s eight months. -old girl dating a black man. Plemons looks as flabbergasted as the audience feels.

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