Juul_i’s review published on Letterboxd:
War is politics.
It's been a long time since a movie has made me reflect so intensely on my own ideology and place in the world. The fact that it's perfectly crafted is even better. Stanfield and Kaluuya (the only Brit I'd accept as Hampton) deliver career-solidifying performances, and relative newcomer Dominique Fishback absolutely shines. Shaka King's choice to shoot faces very close-up evokes so much humanity and personality in the cast that the devastating end to this story feels all the more personal.
Judas and The Black Messiah left me sorting through a lot of feelings. I feel angry I didn't learn more of this history growing up. I feel moved by the solidarity of the Rainbow Coalition. I also feel absolutely depleted. Knowing Hampton's fate doesn't make the ending any easier. But on top of mourning Fred Hampton, I am heartbroken by the loss of a group as radical, well-organized, and ideologically rich as the Panthers. It should disgust and scare all of us that the FBI was able to destroy so much righteous momentum without consequence.
Our current political landscape makes the timing of Judas even more prescient. The zeitgeist of the late 60s promised an end to the old world order. The belief in a brighter future with alternatives to capitalism was palpable. That world feels so far away from our dystopic reality where global warming has numbered our days and any counterculture is coopted almost upon its inception. The BLM protests of last summer justly demanded we defund, if not abolish the police, and yet politicians on both sides of the aisle only want to strengthen the force's outsized power. Though it seemed like we were piercing some cultural veil, forcing a conversation about the realities of being black in America, the end result is corporations like Uber proclaiming their anti-racism in billion dollar commercial spots. It all seems so hollow, and revolution impossible to imagine. Now more than ever, I'm grateful to be reminded of a powerful chapter in our nation's not-so-distant history.
Still, Judas is as much a rumination on betrayal as it is a biopic. Stanfield's performance lends much sympathy to O'Neal's character-- a man who, based on both his actions and his lack of remorse in interviews, may not deserve it. But I think it was the correct choice. Rat that he is, O'Neal is a far cry from Hoover. There's a sense that almost anyone could become a Judas in the wrong situation. You see how someone who's down on his luck feels like he has no options and gets in over his head. It's an important reminder that cowardice can be just as detrimental to progress as greed or malice.