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Shaka King
Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons
Writing Credits:
Shaka King, Will Berson

FBI informant William O'Neal infiltrates the Illinois Black Panther Party and is tasked with keeping tabs on their charismatic leader, Chairman Fred Hampton.

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Descriptive Audio
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 126 min.
Price: $35.99
Release Date: 5/4/2021

• “Fred Hampton for the People” Featurette
• “Unexpected Betrayal” Featurette
• Previews


-LG OLED65C6P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV
-Marantz SR7010 9.2 Channel Full 4K Ultra HD AV Surround Receiver
-Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


Judas and the Black Messiah [Blu-Ray] (2020)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 26, 2021)

In the era of Black Lives Matter, historical pieces about earlier civil rights efforts feel especially relevant. Into this realm steps 2020’s Judas and the Black Messiah, a view of the Black Panther Party of the 1960s/70s.

Set in Chicago, Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) pretends to be an FBI agent as a ruse to steal cars. When the actual Feds capture him, Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) offers Bill a deal in lieu of imprisonment.

Bill can stay out of prison if he infiltrates the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party. He accepts, and this allows him to get close to local leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), a position that tests Fred’s loyalties.

Decades after the organization’s heyday, I think most of the public misunderstands the nature of the Black Panther Party. As such, a good cinematic look at the group would become illuminating.

While a generally engaging drama, Messiah doesn’t provide that form of scope. Instead, it turns into a tale focused heavily on its two leads, one that lacks the balance it needs.

Really, the main issue I find here comes from the fact that Messiah wants to tell the stories of both Fred and Bill. Because it splits its time between the two, it never develops either of them with as much detail as it needs.

This seems especially true for Bill, as Messiah gives him an awfully superficial depiction. Through the movie, Bill usually does little other than seem guilty about his undercover status or nervous that his ruse will become exposed.

Clearly a lot more went on with O’Neal psychologically, as he eventually committed suicide, apparently related to self-torment over his role in Hampton’s death. However, this information all comes inferred by the movie’s post-script, as we see little dimensionality to the part in Messiah itself.

Honestly, I wish Messiah either dropped or greatly diminished Bill’s role. Perhaps if the filmmakers gave him more depth, he’d earn the screentime.

However, every minute with Bill takes away from time we could spend with Fred, and that becomes a decided problem. Unquestionably, Hampton offers the more compelling character, and a movie that concentrates on his story would work much better.

I get that the filmmakers chose the dual focus so they could highlight the themes of betrayal implied by the title. Unfortunately, the film simply lacks the cinematic space to tell both character journeys as well as it could, so it ends up without much depth.

We do find a solid cast, as both Stanfield and Kaluuya excel in their underdone parts. Both are too old for their roles, but that doesn’t become a major impediment, as it’s not like the ages of their characters enter the narrative in an important way.

Stanfield and Kaluuya manage to find more emotion and scope than the script provides. When Messiah succeeds, it does so largely due to their efforts.

Don’t get me wrong: Messiah always remains a fairly involving drama. However, it never becomes more than that, as it seems too spotty to turn into a truly memorable character tale.

The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B/ Bonus C-

Judas and the Black Messiah appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The transfer lived up to expectations.

Overall sharpness appeared strong. Only the slightest sliver of softness ever materialized, so the vast majority of the flick seemed accurate and precise.

The movie usually seemed solid, and I noticed no shimmering or jagged edges. Edge haloes and print flaws remained absent – outside of some archival elements and intentional specks for “aged” photography.

Despite the movie’s period setting, it opted for an orange and teal orientation that felt typical for modern movies. The disc reproduced them as intended.

Blacks appeared dark and deep, and shadows showed good delineation. Low-light shots offered nice clarity. In the end, I felt pleased with this appealing presentation.

As for the movie’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, it added a bit of zip to the proceedings. A fairly chatty affair, the mix lacked a ton of zing, but it blasted music from all the channels and let the effects fill the spectrum.

A few violent scenes used the soundscape to the most impactful degree. These moments occurred infrequently, though, so street atmosphere became the most consistent element, and those moments created a satisfying sense of place and setting.

Audio quality worked well. Speech was concise and natural, while music – which mixed score and period songs – boasted fine range and vivacity.

Effects gave us accurate, dynamic elements without distortion. Though not an especially ambitious track, the movie’s mix seemed more than acceptable.

Two featurettes appear here, and Fred Hampton for the People runs nine minutes, 19 seconds. It offers comments from writer/director Shaka King, co-producers Keith and Kenny Lucas, writer Will Berson, producers Charles D. King and Ryan Coogler, Black Panther Party Cubs’ Chairman Fred Hampton Jr., and actors Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Dominique Fishback, Dominique Thorne and Jesse Plemons.

“People” offers some basics about the history behind the movie. We don’t really learn much that the movie fails to tell us, though it’s good to hear from Hampton’s actual son.

Unexpected Betrayal lasts seven minutes, 47 seconds and brings notes from Stanfield. Kaluuya, Kenny and Keith Lucas, Coogler, King, and Plemons.

With “Betrayal”, we get another view of the movie’s factual basis, with an emphasis on the O’Neal role. Like “People”, this one includes some basics but it lacks depth.

The disc opens with ads for In the Heights, The Little Things and Just Mercy. No trailer for Messiah appears here.

As a historical character drama, Judas and the Black Messiah works fairly well but it never digs as deeply as it needs. With a focus on two separate roles, it lacks the depth it requires to prosper. The Blu-ray brings strong picture along with good audio and minor bonus materials. This becomes a well-made but somewhat underwhelming tale.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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