by Ben Thomson, Staff Writer
With the Oscars taking place in April this year, the race is on to see who will take home a golden statue.
Though 2020 was a barren year for releases, the competition is pretty steep. Films like Mank, Nomadland and Promising Young Woman have spent the past few months dominating academy conversation.
One film, however, managed to nudge its way into the dialogue and may just prove itself a force to be reckoned with: the Fred Hampton biopic, Judas and the Black Messiah.
Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield are the two pillars of this film. While the rest of the cast is great, it’s these two stars that elevate the experience into something special.
When it comes to biopics, it’s very easy for actors to fall into the “SNL trap” of just doing an impression of the historical figure they’re portraying. On the other side of the spectrum, some actors go too far with their interpretation, becoming characters completely divorced from the real-life counterpart.
Kaluuya found the necessary balance crucial for this film, sounding nearly identical to Hampton both in his voice and pattern of speech. He nails more than just the famous speeches, making him feel like an actual character.
Stanfield, on the other hand, had a lot more freedom with his role, as William O’Neil wasn’t a public figure.
He’s perfect in the role, giving the informant a sense of guilt and paranoia always hidden behind a shield of confidence. Most of his performance is subdued and subtle, only ever being over-the-top when his character requires it.
It’s always such a joy watching an actor play a character who’s acting as well.
One thing I appreciate about the narrative is the biblical allusions, such as the title being Judas and the Black Messiah. The director also chose to have the last supper (spoiler warning) portrayed before the death of Hampton, emulating the biblical narrative. Unfortunately, that’s as good as the narrative gets. The writing wasn’t necessarily bad, but a great deal of it was pretty by-the-numbers.
One particular romance subplot disengaged me from the experience and made me take notice of the runtime.
Admittedly, there are some great lines and the underlying message is a powerful one, but it’s a message I could easily get from watching Fred Hampton’s speeches on YouTube.
Don’t get me wrong, Judas and the Black Messiah is a good movie. It’s well shot, the score is incredibly memorable and the difficult scenes are powerful and will resonate with the audience.
It’s certainly the best film I’ve seen this year and I’d recommend it to anybody that hasn’t seen it. But aside from the tour de force lead performances and the conversation it will most certainly spark in the film community, there’s not much else to write home about.
If Daniel Kaluuya walks away with the best actor trophy, I’ll be happy. Hell, I’d be happy to see Lakeith Stanfield get the gold.
Otherwise, Judas and the Black Messiah will be remembered by me as a good (but not great) movie.