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Judas and the Black Messiah


Stars: Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Dominique Fishback, Jesse Plemons, Martin Sheen, Dominique Thorne

Director: Shaka King

In some ways a companion piece to The Trial of the Chicago 7 - the link is Black Panthers co-founder Bobby Seale - this is another solid piece of film-making, again set in America of the late 1960s, but this time focusing on the Black Panther movement, and its undoing at the hands of a petty crook (the charismatic Stanfield) who became an informant for the FBI.

The Panthers are an armed organisation, dedicated to violence as a means of achieving social justice and urban improvement, led, as the movie opens, by the rabble-rousing Fred Hampton (Kaluuya) who whips his supporters to fever pitch as he urges them to rebel against atrocities perpetrated by the 'pigs' (cops) and the authorities behind them. Sadly, more than 60 years later, it seems that little, far too little, has changed.

Multiple shoot-outs between the Panthers and the 'pigs' threaten at times to take the film into territory suggesting a gangster film of the 1930s, but quieter moments - and the performances - go towards maintaining an equilibrium.

Kaluuya gives a powerful performance as Hampton, but Stanfield is outstanding as the small-time car thief who becomes the movement's chief security officer while all the time funnelling vital information to his FBI contact (Plemons). He brilliantly conveys the stomach-churning disposition of a man living on the edge of his nerves. It comes a surprise to learn that Hampton was only 20 at the time, and O'Neal 19. A final revelation about the latter comes as quite a jolt.

On digital download from 26 April

David Quinlan

USA 2020. UK Distributor: Warner Brothers. Colour by Company 3.
125 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 12 Apr 2021