News

Judas and the Black Messiah First Reviews: Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield Shine in Powerful, Timely Film

Critics who watched the Sundance premiere say Shaka King's biopic is anchored by its stellar performances and a story that feels just as relevant as it did in the 1960s.

by | February 2, 2021 | Comments

Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya star as the titular figures of Judas and the Black Messiah, Shaka King’s new movie focused on the betrayal and death of Black Panthers leader Fred Hampton in 1969, and their performances are the standouts, according to the first reviews published following its Sundance Film Festival premiere on Monday, February 1. The historical drama involving the US government’s targeting of Black Americans expectedly carries power and timely relevance, and Kaluuya, Stanfield, and co-star Dominique Fishback have some talking Oscars, even if the biopic framing posed a bit of a narrative hurdle for some critics.

Here’s what critics are saying about Judas and the Black Messiah:


Is it one of the most important movies of the year?

Judas and the Black Messiah makes the Hampton saga feel as urgent — and tragic — as ever.
– Kate Erbland, IndieWire

It doesn’t feel like a stretch to name it one of 2021’s best films. It may be one of the year’s most important movies, too.
– Karen Han, Slate

Of the movies that have come out after last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, Judas and the Black Messiah is perhaps the most essential.
– Karlos Delossantos, Smash Cut Reviews

The film could have been truly earth-shaking. As is, it’s a momentous story told well enough.
– Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

To call it timely would be both accurate and essentially meaningless, insofar as everything the movie shows us has been with us, and may be with us, for a very long time.
Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times


Will it make you angry?

Judas and the Black Messiah will piss you off — but that’s by design. The film is a bleak reminder that racism, classism, and corruption still exist within the American government and society at large — and it’s not going away anytime soon.
Valerie Complex, The Nerds of Color

If you aren’t furious and shedding tears by the end of it, I don’t think you paid close enough attention.
Tessa Smith, Mama’s Geeky

The story is infuriating — not in the way King presents it, not at all, but in its details.
Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic


Judas and the Black Messiah

(Photo by ©Warner Bros.)

Does it offer an authentic history lesson?

Because this is a movie, the Rainbow Coalition’s origins are a little too oversimplified and streamlined… There might be fabricated “only in a movie” moments, but the film authentically conveys the passion and necessity for civil rights.
Carla Hay, Culture Mix

Judas and the Black Messiah could be considered a piece of civil rights history, but really it’s a war movie and it explores how soldiers and civilians see themselves in that war.
Matt Goldberg, Collider


Does it work as a biopic?

That it was conceived within those creative walls and still breathes freely as non-conformist art makes it all the more invigorating.
Carlos Aguilar, The Wrap

It’s a great reminder of what a studio-produced biopic can accomplish with the right parameters for telling the story of notable historical figures.
Aaron Neuwirth, We Live Entertainment

Judas and the Black Messiah is richer and more engaging than a standard biopic but is not quite the Shakespearean tragedy of double allegiances and backstabbing that it could have been.
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

King hits the limits between cinema and history in his race to the conventional biopic center… Judas And The Black Messiah doesn’t fully encapsulate either its Judas or its messiah.
Robert Daniels, The Playlist


How well does it handle its characters?

Judas’ flaws start at the conception stage, and a script that just needed better focus or more care for both of its titular figures.
Kyle Pinion, ScreenRex

The film is hurt a bit by a wandering protagonist. It keeps flipping between both men to the point I didn’t feel I got to know either well.
Rachel Wagner, rachelsreviews.net

Shaka King resists the temptation to flatten real-life figures into easy roles like hero, victim, villain, or saint, or to bop the audience over the head with constant reminders about the gravity of it all.
Angie Han, Mashable


Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah

(Photo by ©Warner Bros.)

How is Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton?

Kaluuya provides an electrifying performance as the young revolutionary, bringing in various affectations, physicality, and more to provide a near-instantly iconic portrayal of Hampton.
Aaron Neuwirth, We Live Entertainment

Kaluuya renders an incredible impression of Hampton’s presence, power, and energy—Kaluuya is simply electric—and when he’s not on screen, the power stops.
Robert Daniels, The Playlist

It’s a nuanced, careful part, embodied by an actor who can more than ably capture every inch of a man, far beyond decades-old public perceptions.
Kate Erbland, IndieWire

This role is a huge step up for him in a quick march towards becoming one of the finest actors of his generation.
Leila Latif, Little White Lies

Kaluuya is transcendent… He’s so good, his absence lends itself to some slightly patchy pacing around the midway point.
Cameron Frew, Unilad


And LaKeith Stanfield as William O’Neal?

This is a career best. Stanfield was able to capture the complexities and internal struggles that O’Neal was suffering with perfectly.
Dorian Parks, Geeks of Color

Stanfield gives us a career-best performance… Stanfield’s gentle face, often breaking into a slippery but charming smile, is enough to break your heart.
Peter Bradshaw, Guardian

Stanfield’s performance is indeed a thing of insidious beauty, as conscience and cowardice duke it out until the cruel, bloody end.
Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

Stanfield is terrific (as he is in everything he does), but what makes his performance clever is that O’Neal doesn’t seem to grasp anything larger than his own survival.
Matt Goldberg, Collider

It’s a tricky role, both despicable and pitiable… He viscerally captures the shiftiness of O’Neal.
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

He’s confined to certain expressions and reactions because of how the film portrays O’Neal… It’s solely the fault of how the character is written.
Valerie Complex, The Nerds of Color

The material underwhelms, doing him somewhat of a disservice.
Courtney Howard, Fresh Fiction


LaKeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah

(Photo by )

Is there anyone else to watch for?

It’s Dominique Fishback’s gut-wrenching performance as Hampton’s girlfriend, Deborah Johnson, that’s a standout.
Aramide Tinubu, Shadow and Act

Dominique Fishback is the film’s fresh breathing lungs… Fishback, put in a supportive spouse role, accomplishes so much with so little.
Robert Daniels, The Playlist

Fishback arguably has the most difficult task in the entire picture because she needs to sell the personal stakes of the fight, and she immediately wins us over with her strong yet gentle performance.
Matt Goldberg, Collider


What else is effective in the film?

Director of Photography Sean Bobbitt makes superb use of negative space, whether black palettes highlighting brightly painted cars at night or the bronze tones of lounge lights reflecting off ebony skin.
Rubin Safaya, Cinemalogue

Sean Bobbitt adds tremendous assurance to this story’s visual approach.
Aaron Neuwirth, We Live Entertainment

With DP Sean Bobbitt, dynamic cinematography lets the film unfold with style and grit concurrently. It’s a joy for the eyes.
Cameron Frew, Unilad

The film’s dazzling use of music weaves deep cuts from the period and spoken word together with a score by avant-garde jazz trombonist Craig Harris and Mark Isham.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter


LaKeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah

(Photo by ©Warner Bros.)

What else is the film reminiscent of?

A sort of Donnie Brasco undercover drama that unfolds within the weighty context of sociopolitical fury and sorrow.
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

The movie acts as a corrective for Sorkin’s film [The Trial of the Chicago 7].
Karen Han, Slate

This film has a lot in common with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford… Much like the Roger Deakins-shot film, Judas also looks incredible.
Aaron Neuwirth, We Live Entertainment

[It’s] a perverse inversion of Spike Lee’s recent BlackKklansman.
Peter Debruge, Variety

Like Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, King’s film is masterful in its depiction of the struggle for Black self-determination.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter


Should we anticipate some awards recognition for the film?

Speaking in Oscar prospects can reduce a great performance to gold, but [Kaluuya] is surely our supporting actor winner.
Cameron Frew, Unilad

Another nomination should be in the cards [for Kaluuya] showing the full range of his talents.
Brian Truitt, USA Today

Fishback is surely in line for a best supporting actress Oscar.
Peter Bradshaw, Guardian

I hope it goes the distance during award season; it certainly deserves it.
Dorian Parks, Geeks of Color


Judas and the Black Messiah premieres in theaters and on HBO Max on February 12, 2021.

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

television Teen BET comic Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt independent vs. wonder woman TV movies IFC Films Syfy video news NBC reboot A24 Apple TV Plus mockumentary TCA spy thriller Women's History Month FXX joker Kids & Family dceu marvel comics live event witnail Fargo FX on Hulu Mary Tyler Moore high school Lucasfilm rom-coms stand-up comedy Martial Arts dramedy Best Picture spanish language Television Academy mcc SXSW 2022 venice X-Men critics TCA Winter 2020 spain discovery WarnerMedia Superheroes teaser Freeform Reality game of thrones Netflix Christmas movies Acorn TV political drama AMC Plus TV renewals Extras women nature Valentine's Day USA Holiday ABC HBO Max asian-american free movies 2021 TBS SundanceTV worst OneApp green book quibi documentary canceled TV shows CW Seed Holidays First Look reviews comics Nominations Marvel Television PlayStation Television Critics Association prank series basketball football TV Land Paramount Pictures Pride Month Neflix Action classics Alien japanese APB superhero black comedy telelvision Mary Poppins Returns Countdown best lord of the rings Paramount Plus streamig Classic Film cats spinoff 24 frames cancelled TV shows Brie Larson Showtime tv talk 73rd Emmy Awards miniseries what to watch TLC Apple TV+ cartoon crime drama docudrama Disney streaming service Writers Guild of America batman Star Trek psychological thriller Creative Arts Emmys Binge Guide CMT ID Awards Tour pirates of the caribbean MSNBC CNN 2017 godzilla richard e. Grant SDCC Netflix obi wan anthology RT History scary comic book movie crossover theme song FOX dark rt archives Comics on TV art house james bond Academy Awards Sundance Tumblr summer preview fast and furious ABC Family Sony action-comedy TV indie A&E directors feel good vampires revenge scene in color dreamworks stop motion Black History Month Adult Swim international Emmys 72 Emmy Awards See It Skip It VICE The Walking Dead 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards laika Turner Classic Movies scene in color film series new star wars movies Sneak Peek Photos boxoffice kong toy story E3 Pet Sematary Amazon Prime elevated horror Song of Ice and Fire Chernobyl Rom-Com true crime know your critic YA Amazon target Set visit Tags: Comedy ratings social media space romance DC Universe Star Wars San Diego Comic-Con summer TV preview dc Opinion japan docuseries Tomatazos BBC America Tubi Epix Ellie Kemper Chilling Adventures of Sabrina singing competition NYCC Image Comics Hear Us Out comic books Election Travel Channel The Academy Sony Pictures Baby Yoda versus Walt Disney Pictures travel biopic BBC One golden globe awards scorecard Amazon Studios Esquire GoT cinemax deadpool AMC Ovation nbcuniversal Focus Features BET Awards Rocketman posters YouTube aliens criterion Anna Paquin romantic comedy heist movie target scene in color Character Guide NBA Video Games Exclusive Video Mudbound indiana jones Native USA Network TNT sports new zealand Peacock sequel fresh Spike DGA supernatural Bravo Instagram Live blaxploitation concert justice league slasher italian DirecTV cars twilight stoner natural history Warner Bros. Amazon Prime Video mission: impossible Lifetime king kong Summer Winners Stephen King comic book movies MTV a nightmare on elm street emmy awards zombies zero dark thirty Universal New York Comic Con genre binge Trailer The Purge President Dark Horse Comics Pacific Islander History kids satire obituary trophy E! razzies Food Network ITV Music biography National Geographic TruTV 20th Century Fox Fall TV rotten movies we love festivals video on demand adenture Toys Mary poppins cancelled TV series sequels unscripted 71st Emmy Awards GIFs spider-man harry potter Starz war Universal Pictures saw Logo worst movies disaster 1990s Shudder hispanic heritage month marvel cinematic universe 90s 2018 Nat Geo Fantasy animated Film Festival festival Nickelodeon dogs Turner Film The Walt Disney Company Super Bowl Geeked Week documentaries Heroines hollywood Awards BBC 21st Century Fox transformers period drama adventure IMDb TV films Discovery Channel HBO Go MGM The CW Musicals Winter TV crime Masterpiece Musical sag awards universal monsters Country Superheroe Rocky El Rey Quiz Marvel Studios Broadway MCU TIFF Family Paramount Emmy Nominations toronto leaderboard CBS sitcom Pop hispanic facebook Biopics Interview RT21 Disney+ Disney Plus Britbox Podcast strong female leads Best Actress hidden camera LGBT Fox News french composers foreign historical drama game show Tarantino Western black rt labs GLAAD serial killer popular critic resources Pop TV spanish Thanksgiving Red Carpet 99% Paramount Network Arrowverse The Witch HFPA Animation politics blockbusters werewolf Best Actor Spectrum Originals franchise Legendary Horror movies 2015 VOD all-time Schedule First Reviews Rock latino YouTube Premium summer TV boxing breaking bad Box Office gangster 2020 new york Comic-Con@Home 2021 streaming movies technology mutant south america Wes Anderson CBS All Access ghosts blockbuster Funimation jamie lee curtis king arthur Hulu Lionsgate OWN dexter cooking rt labs critics edition South by Southwest Film Festival Infographic ESPN christmas movies spider-verse The Arrangement 2016 live action movie SXSW Lifetime Christmas movies finale Trophy Talk name the review Apple Calendar DC Comics 4/20 Year in Review Cannes olympics archives Polls and Games award winner monster movies slashers royal family medical drama trailers doctor who kaiju broadcast Pixar scene in color series diversity chucky police drama Sundance TV suspense Best Director Best and Worst comiccon adaptation halloween book adaptation PaleyFest renewed TV shows Ghostbusters HBO Disney Channel PBS aapi Mystery Disney thriller Crackle 45 TCA Awards Crunchyroll Endgame Avengers Vudu anime Christmas Premiere Dates Hollywood Foreign Press Association BAFTA 94th Oscars golden globes Disney Plus cults ViacomCBS interviews VH1 TCM Sundance Now legend 79th Golden Globes Awards die hard australia Mindy Kaling Columbia Pictures Indigenous Captain marvel Comic Book talk show book Star Wars Celebration based on movie cancelled Cosplay jurassic park Grammys parents Certified Fresh Reality Competition Marvel screenings rotten young adult Marathons hist Shondaland sopranos canceled screen actors guild comedies Hallmark Spring TV psycho 007 FX Sci-Fi DC streaming service robots casting American Society of Cinematographers cancelled television Black Mirror Comedy Central science fiction cops LGBTQ 93rd Oscars Watching Series Comedy YouTube Red Prime Video nfl Oscars child's play zombie scary movies WGN Cartoon Network 2019 mob dragons Fox Searchlight Elton John children's TV ABC Signature debate halloween tv Oscar Trivia Hallmark Christmas movies superman streaming Drama Pirates crime thriller TCA 2017 Tokyo Olympics IFC remakes TV One