This outstanding Film depicts the true story of how William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) was offered a plea deal to infiltrate the Black Panther Party, with the intent to gain intelligence on Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).
Director and Co-Writer Shaka King has brought us an important story about a buried history. It’s filled with tragedy, adrenaline and tender moments. Balancing these moments is a feat, but King succeeds. There are jarring scenes of police shootouts and violence against members of the Black Panther Party. Then moments of contemplation from Hampton with his comrades and partner Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback).
The decision by King and Co-Writer Will Berson to start and end their re-telling of this tragedy with a reenactment of an O’Neil interview is impressive. In doing so, they give audiences a look into the antagonist of their Film. They depict the primary drive for O’Neil was the money the FBI was paying him. The reenactment and actual interview footage at the end show how far in denial O’Neil was about his time as an informant. King looks at O’Neil as a person who, “falls for everything if they stand for nothing.”
Stanfield’s performance of the Antagonist is nuanced. He manages to leave mystery in his layered performance that allows audiences to question if O’Neil ever felt guilty. By no way is O’Neil redeemed, but having an Actor able to express humanity in someone consumed by self-preservation is incredible to watch. It’s in O’Neil’s self-preservation that pins him as the direct opposite of Hampton, who was always for the people.
Kaluuya is terrific as Hampton. His control over his voice, accent and bravado, is masterful, especially when displaying difference in cadences. He had a different cadence when having conversations and giving speeches. Kaluuya does this throughout, particularly in the “I am a Revolutionary,” scene. It’s one of the most powerful scenes in the Film that gives chills and leaves goosebumps. It also shows the unbelievable talent of Kaluuya.
Although, Judas and the Black Messiah is about the two men, King and his female Cast, lift-up the female characters. Johnson is a pivotal part of the story and is where the heart of the Film lies. It’s lovely to watch Kaluuya and Fishback together on-screen. They have magnetic chemistry that is palpable. Fishback gives an outstanding performance throughout.
King’s use of Sound and Music is integral to his story. Through the first part of the Film, there is a Jazz composition that complements to the movement of the Black Panther Party. When things begin to become more tumultuous, due to O’Niel following out more vile orders from the FBI, the music changes to string compositions. These compositions create an unsettling atmosphere. The Film goes quiet near the end. The moments surrounding the assassination of Hampton by the FBI is silent, adding to the already sombre tone.
Judas and the Black Messiah is a layered Film about many things. One of them being the importance of legacies in a story that has been buried.
Following great success at Sundance earlier this year, Director Boots Riley brought his debut Feature SORRY TO BOTHER YOU to Toronto for a Canadian Premiere tonight.
Centering on a young man named Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) who is struggling to make ends meet. Decidedly, he takes on a Telemarketer job as a last ditch attempt before eviction from his uncle’s garage. Taking on a new persona or what he calls his “white voice”, Cassius finds himself excelling and climbing the corporate ranks much to the disagreement of his artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) and friends at work who are plotting to bring on a union into the workplace. Things get increasingly complicated when he uncovers are horrific secret undertaking which one of his company’s biggest clients is plotting under influencial power player Steve Lift (Armie Hammer).
Despite it being Father’s Day, Sorry to Bother You brought-out a packed house at CineplexYonge & Dundas to see the buzzed Film first and hear Riley speak. Some of you may know the former Rapper from his work as Frontman of Hip-Hop act The Coup. Despite having filmmaking aspirations, Riley dropped-out Film School to pursue music only now to come full circle, better late than never. He also once worked as a Telemarketer too like the Film’s flawed hero, Cassius.
Riley tells the audience about the characters in this quirky, out-there journey of self-discovery, shot over 28 days at 61 locations, exploring at what costs one is willing to go against what they believe in truly. “I wrote things from a human place, writing every single character as if they were me. They all represent conflict going on in my head”. “I had to trust my views of the world and let them come out.”.
The Film’s breakout star is Lakeith Stanfield who plays Cassius. Riley tells us about his casting choice. “His manager was really persistent”, he says, met with laughter by the audience. “When I cast him, there had only been one episode of Atlanta and I only knew him from Short Term 12.”. “I went and met with him he had a full beard. I realized he was a much older soul than his years would let on. He also had the right element of crazy.”.
One key scene however was cut from the Film, reveals Riley. “There was a full frontal (non-sexual) nudity scene and I needed him to be the most vulnerable he can be. It was a deal breaker and he cut me off and said ‘I’ve been waiitng for a role like this!’.”. He adds, “I was able to cut it out. He (Stanfield) achieved what few great actors can achieve, this vulnerability – letting him experiece the feelings, never worrying what he looks like.”.
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