This movie is based on actual events and starts with an opening almost like a Martin Scorsese film. The suspense begins with a victim who is two-faced and trying to survive. The film’s premise is infiltration (which is based on real events), and the storyline displays much believability with the order of events and back story. It tells the true story of the dangerous journey for Bill O’Neal as he handles his tasks as assigned by FBI Agent Mitchell and J. Edgar Hoover. The authenticity of Judas and the Black Messiah lies within trying to figure out the beliefs of O’Neal, and if he is on one side over the other. The film’s tone is set by frequent protests, court scenarios, and criminal disputes that are a part of the movement of the Black Panther Party. As Fred Hampton announces, “I am a revolution,” the question that many will ponder is if O’Neal deserves to be considered one because of his undercover tasks assigned.
Lakeith Stanfield plays Bill O’Neal and Jesse Plemons plays Roy Mitchell. Mitchell gives O’Neal the task to work his way into infiltrating the Black Panther Party. Due to the importance of the issues of racism and hatred, O’Neal views this opportunity as an honor despite the risks. Truly, he is faced with no real choice given that he faces other criminal charges due to previous incidents. He finds himself in uncharted and dangerous territory as he feels mixed with the Party and is finding love with one of the revolutionaries, Deborah Johnson (played by Domonique Fishback). In a time of change, deceit, betrayal, and conflicting information, O’Neal finds himself struggling to remain neutral and avoid danger. Judas and the Black Messiah turns into a realistic journey of discoveries that are unpleasant, but it is faithful in portraying the true outcomes and the historic story of what happened back in the day these events occurred.
The dark territory where the progression of suspense awaits lies in many of the conversations between O’Neal and Mitchell, and O’Neal with the Party. Certain patterns emerge that do not seem right with O’Neal. Director Shaka King is talented at directing this film which involves cross cutting the scenes between the events and the conversations. This technique helps his audience start to understand what O’Neal or Mitchell are interpreting in terms of truths and lies as well as what could go awry if O’Neal’s assignments are not fulfilled. During the film, consistent reminders of danger abound if an assignment is not obeyed. Stanfield and Plemmons both act in ways that define pure and sensational realism which is topped by the Director King’s faded cinematography. Both actors are truly Oscar-worthy in this riveting and emotional true story.
Judas and the Black Messiah is a representation of a dark story on the issues of racism and equality. It is done with grace and brilliance, and accurate in portraying historical moments. The film is daring and mesmerizing, and I found myself hoping O’Neal would make the right decisions. Because of the era of the film, many of the political tides were rigged, and O’Neal stands a chance of redeeming himself. However, he has two ways to do so; one is to be faithful with his tasks from the FBI or the other is to support the Black Panther Party and fight for what he believes. Four stars for Judas and the Black Messiah.