Judas and the Black Messiah: A True and Tragic Tale – Oscar HBO Max Review

Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya headline this story of an up-and-coming civil rights leader.

SUMMARY (Spoilers if you haven’t heard the story)

In the 1960s, Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) is arrested for hijacking a car while pretending to be a Federal Agent. FBI Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) agrees to drop the charges if O’Neal infiltrates the Illinois Black Panthers and spies on their leader, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). Hampton is one of the biggest threats on the FBI’s list because of his ability to persuade rival organizations to work together in advancing civil rights causes, a group he calls the Rainbow Coalition. Hampton is set up for taking ice cream bars to give to local kids (yes, really) and sentenced to two to five years (YES. REALLY). During this period, O’Neal rises through the ranks of the Black Panthers, eventually becoming head of security. When Hampton is released for his appeal, O’Neal is paid to drug him so that Hampton cannot fight back when the FBI and local police raid his home in order to kill Hampton in the presence of his pregnant girlfriend Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback). So ends the 21 year life of a man whose personality and charisma were so threatening to the establishment they had to execute him.

Daniel Kaluuya is a decade older than Fred Hampton was when he died.

END SUMMARY

I had originally declined to review this film not because it wasn’t great but because I only watched it 3 days before it left streaming and I didn’t want to go “THIS MOVIE IS AMAZING, SO WATCH IT IN THE NEXT 12 HOURS.” That said, this movie is amazing and you should watch it (at your own pace). 

I wouldn’t stab you in the back like that.

The murder of Fred Hampton is, much like the Tulsa Race Massacre, a thing that is incredibly horrible and also largely unknown to many people. Just as Watchmen and Lovecraft Country sought to bring the former event to the attention of the general public, this film and, to a lesser extent, The Trial of the Chicago 7 seek to bring attention to the fact that a man was murdered by law enforcement because he was seeking to stop racism and inequality. The fact that not a ton of (certain) people know about it is even more insane when you realize that it resulted in the largest settlement in any civil rights case and, as shown in this film, had a person literally testify on public television that he was hired by the Federal Government to help kill him.

The real Fred Hampton.

This movie, much like many retellings of the life of the Messiah, does a great job of splitting the focus between Fred Hampton as a figure capable of uniting a bunch of disparate people and O’Neal as the traitorous man who is constantly questioning what he is doing. The thing is, O’Neal always has a choice, but it’s also insane that the FBI was asking him to do this. While some of the events in the film are exaggerated or based on accusations that haven’t been confirmed, more of it is accurate than you would probably like to believe. For example, having an informant with a warrant that allowed the FBI to raid places where he hid is a horrible violation of civil rights, a tactic that actually mirrors a violation of the Geneva Convention if done in war, and also something the FBI probably did, but I don’t think we have any direct confirmation of it. 

It doesn’t help the government’s case that they literally had a spy planted.

The performances by Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya are phenomenal. Kaluuya makes Hampton human but also shows us the kind of charisma that a person would need to convince so many people to follow him. He’s always focused on getting people to join together rather than letting them be separated by petty differences. Lakeith Stanfield makes O’Neal into a person who clearly makes the wrong choices and doesn’t really try to change, which, if his interview is anything to go by, is probably accurate. Dominique Fishback plays Deborah Johnson as someone who is equally in love with Hampton the man and also the future he represents. 

It’s a cute moment.

Overall, fantastic movie. Really recommend it. 

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Project Power: A Man’s Reach Should Exceed His Grasp, Or What’s a Superpower For? – Netflix Review

Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt star in a new-ish take on Superpowers.

SUMMARY

In the near future, next Sunday A.D., a new drug has hit the streets of New Orleans: Power. As the name itself implies, whoever takes the drugs is given a random superpower for five minutes. Some people can become invisible, some become bulletproof, some can only see in the dark, and some blow up. Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an officer in the New Orleans Police Department, has been investigating the drug, and using it in the process. His dealer is a young girl named Robin (Dominique Fishback), who gets the drug from her cousin, Newt (Colson Baker). At the same time, another man, called “The Major” (Jamie Foxx) has been in town tracking down the source of the drug. After Newt gets killed in a fight with The Major, The Major abducts Robin to use as an informant. It’s revealed that the Major is a former soldier named Art who was used as a guinea pig by a private defense firm to manufacture superpowers, and the firm kidnapped his daughter, Tracy (Kyanna Simone Simpson). Eventually, Art and Frank have to work together to stop this super plague upon the streets.

Yes, the hero is literally wearing a Saints outfit.

END SUMMARY

This movie attempts to make a grittier and more grounded style of superhero film in the vein of Code 8 or Upgrade, but doesn’t quite push the envelope as much as you would hope. It does contain some original uses of superpowers and some fun imagery and fight sequences, as well as some realistic side effects of using such powers, but the film feels to me like it lacked some depth. Maybe it’s because Netflix required it to be a little more palatable to everyone, or maybe I was just reading into it too much. All of the pieces are there for a solid superhero film, although the dialogue can be a little slow in any scene that doesn’t have Jamie Foxx. That man can make almost anything sound interesting.  The problem is that I felt like they seeded a bunch of themes, but ultimately only touched upon them lightly.

This scene was pretty damned awesome.

The power sets in the film range from the standard (Bulletproof, invisibility) to the weird (bone weapons, hyper jointedness), which keeps the fights interesting. The five minute time limit is basically a way to force fast action set pieces, because if you waste another second before you lose your invulnerability or superspeed, the game is over. Everyone gets their own power, the same one they will get every time they take the drug, which means that you can have people who have thought about the limits of their abilities and worked around them. One of the fight scenes uses creative powers and some clever camera work to particularly great effect. 

And sometimes they are just plain cool looking.

The characters in the film are very generic. You have the cop who plays by his own rules in order to get the job done and the dad who is willing to go to almost any length in order to get his child back as the leads. If they weren’t played by actors who can maneuver a line as well as Foxx and Gordon-Levitt, the characters would be mostly forgettable, but sometimes that’s enough. Robin, played extremely well by Dominique Fishback, is probably the most interesting character, because she doesn’t fall into any narrow trope. She’s a drug dealing kid, but it’s because her mom is sick. She’s an aspiring rapper and has pride in her skills, but has stage fright. Her moments bonding with the two leads are some of the better non-action scenes in the film. 

Yes, the sidekick is named Robin. Fortunately, she’s still awesome.

My biggest problem is that the movie is about a company with government ties conducting what are essentially unsanctioned clinical trials on an unsuspecting population of mostly impoverished and minority people, but nothing more is said of that. That’s a thing that has happened, multiple times, throughout the history of the US in various capacities. The government and private companies have used the poor as guinea pigs without their knowledge on multiple occasions, ranging from the Tuskegee Experiments to paying doctors in poor areas to distribute oxycodone, and I think the film should have drawn these comparisons a little more directly. I know that’s a nitpick, but it was right there. 

Seriously, they were so close to hitting it at a few points.

Overall, still a pretty solid movie. Yeah, it’s not going to blow any minds, but it was fun.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.