I see another Oscar nomination in Daniel Kaluuya’s future. Fred Hampton is just the right meaty role for the budding actor to bite his teeth into, full of passion and vitality. This film, though, gives us not one but two fantastic central performances because LaKeith Stanfield is nearly just as good. His character being torn between two worlds – cooperative informant and Black Panther Party security – is always compelling and it’s a struggle that you can feel in every single Stanfield scene.
Beyond being such a terrific showcase for two actors at the top of their game, Judas and the Black Messiah is supported by a ton of other great scene-stealers, including Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, and Algee Smith. Even Lil Rel Howery is gripping in a brief role, giving the audience a small nudge into the horrific as we careen towards the film’s gripping finale. This movie is a portrayal of a time when officers could taunt people of color, calling them ‘Aunt Jemima,’ killing them without consequence, and treating their lives as altogether ‘lesser than.’ It’s not always an easy watch, but the tragedy of it all is never downplayed. You feel every bullet, every plea for things to get better, and every single character moment feels as vital as the message the film is trying to send.
I was never all that aware of the Black Panthers true story, but the research that was done into depicting it on screen was clearly quite in-depth and is framed with power and importance. This felt like a story that needed to be told, and not one that was just put to screen as Oscar bait. Buoyed by these two fantastic lead performances from Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah will no doubt be lovingly embraced by many with its strong and timely themes.