Directed by: Shaka King
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Martin Sheen, Deborah Johnson, and Ashton Sanders
Runtime: 126 minutes
Rating: R (for violence and pervasive language.)
It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen a film based on a true story. The trailer intrigued me, and with the climate in the World, today conversations stemming from films like this are needed. I saw BlacKkKsman (directed by Spike Lee – GREAT FILM) in 2018 and found similarities between both films. The plot is similar, we have our lead infiltrate a group. In this film, it is the Black Panthers. Maybe I’m a history buff, but I always seem to be drawn to true-life stories. Especially ones that the effects still resonate today. This film is playing at all local cinemas, as well as, on HBO Max. A note on theaters, NYC is opening up all cinemas in March and rumor has it California is doing the same. We are getting close to new releases, and being able to enjoy films with popcorn in hand like I know everyone misses.
Onto the film.
We open with B-roll film from “Eyes on the Prize II” featuring an interview from our protagonist Bill O’Neal. We then start to get a montage of news clips from the 60s and 70s showing racial injustice in America. The score immediately adds gravity to the images before us and this plays on throughout the film.
We then learn that O’Neal is picked up on a hijacking charge. The FBI has him now. He meets a man named Roy Mitchell (Plemons) who cuts him a deal. They will drop the charges if he infiltrates the Black Panthers. His first task is the Illinois branch led by Fred Hampton (Kaluuya) this is when the film reminded me of so many other films in the same genre. I thought of The Departed and of course BlackKkKlansman. What elevates this film, like the others, is the cast of this film.
From top to bottom, each character brings heart and passion to their role. O’Neal (Stanfield) and Hampton (Kaluuya) shine. We feel the tension as O’Neal climbs the ranks and the pressure mounts. Meanwhile, we are seeing racial injustice that rings true decades later.
From a technical standpoint, the film works. The set designs, score, and costumes all feel the part. (Some feels lack this.) I will admit, I wasn’t familiar with this story and to me, it had many twists and turns. If you like nail-biters WATCH THIS FILM.
After watching the film, I did some reading on the real-life people and their story. In my opinion, this film is mostly accurate to the story. However, Hollywood has come in to add extra tension and scenes that I felt we’ve seen over and over. Regardless this doesn’t detract from a superb film.
If you’re a fan of true-life stories and you’ve enjoyed the other films I’ve mentioned. Give this a watch. I’ve said it before with recent films, but I also expect Oscar nominations for Judas the Black Messiah. I’m sure others that have lived during this time period will connect with it much greater than myself reading and watching clips but from a critic standpoint. VERY IMPRESSED 4 stars out of 5