Life & Culture

Film review: Judas and The Black Messiah

Linda Marric admires a powerful story of betrayal


On December 4 1969, the Chicago police raided the apartment of Illinois Black Panther party chairman Fred Hampton (Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya) and shot him dead. It later transpired that Hampton had been betrayed by William O’Neil (an impressive turn from LaKeith Stanfield), an FBI informant who had infiltrated the Panthers. The story behind this betrayal is told in Judas and The Black Messiah, a powerful new biopic from Newlyweeds director Shaka King.

The setting is Chicago, in the late 1960s. When he is arrested and charged with car-theft, petty criminal William O’Neil is approached by FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) who offers to drop the charges in return of him becoming an informant for the Bureau. Under orders from the then FBI director J Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen), O’Neil infiltrates the local Black Panther Party and works his way up to the top of the organisation, growing closer to Hampton and his entourage.

This is a beautifully executed account of man’s descent into a vicious circle of betrayal and deceit. Elevated by a stunning performance courtesy of Kaluuya — who is yet to put a foot wrong since his starring role in the excellent post-race horror comedy Get Out — the film takes us right into the heart of the historical events that shaped America’s current political landscape.

Director King and writer Will Berson have given us a touching and honest film which asks some pertinent and urgent ethical questions surrounding the use of government informants. Engaging and handsomely acted throughout.

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