Judas and the Black Messiah ★★½

I'm afraid this is gonna sound horribly condescending, but I kept thinking "perfectly adequate." (The NY Times writer who called it the most radical movie Hollywood has ever produced sure wasn't thinking of form.) Part of the problem is a lack of focus. JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH plays like a biopic of 2 very different people at the same time, while also trying to serve as a more general history lesson. While it makes no attempt to cater to white audiences by, say, giving Fred Hampton a nice white friend to serve as their surrogate, the focus on O'Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) suggests that it doesn't trust the spectator to identify with Hampton. The politics are sketched in lightly; Hampton (in documentary footage and as a fictional character) attacks capitalism and says that he's a socialist several times, while the film shows one of his meetings with working-class white leftists briefly. I don't expect a Warner Bros. production to endorse Hampton's calls for revolutionary communism, and this film's existence is bound to lead to a huge boom in viewership of THE MURDER OF FRED HAMPTON (streaming for free on both Vimeo and YouTube.) It also makes no bones about the FBI and police's role as executioners of Black people. (Casting Martin Sheen as J. Edgar Hoover and then burying him under pounds of unconvincing prosthetic makeup was an awful choice.) But as with many mainstream films about radical political figures (like THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES), it seems made for an audience which thinks leftist politics is admirable without knowing much about it. Lakeith Stanfield does a good job of suggesting O'Neal's growing disenchantment with his betrayal of Hampton, but his part is so under-written that much of this journey must be taken on faith. Our glimpse of the real O'Neal at the end in the documentary EYES ON THE PRIZE 2, followed by an intertitle about what eventually happened to him, complicates the fictional footage
(including Stanfield playing O'Neal in EYES 2) that produced it. It made me wish director Shaka King had gone further towards BLACKKKLANSMAN's mix of fiction and documentary elements.