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“Superb acting.”

That was my thought, my pinpointed adverb, by the end of Judas and the Black Messiah.

Immediately following the viewing, I sat through Nomadland, and the thought and adverb returned … that the acting in Judas was superb. (Not that Frances McDormand and her newly discovered real-life friends in Nomadland weren’t … fine.)

And, yes, the actors of Judas consisted mostly of black humans. And, yes, the film resounds a meaningful message. And, no, my “and yeses” are not dismissive of the message.

The film does not deserve to be lost in the colors of our ways – then or now. To reprise in this article what was stated by real-life Black Panther Fred Hampton or anyone else defeats the purpose of experiencing the film. It’s not a documentary. It’s a movie. It’s a cinematic experience. (I mean, that’s the point of me writing this article. I don’t do nonfiction.)

The then, accurately or aptly portrayed or not, was a disgrace to the human race in many ways. Yes.

Our now, swayed by whomever or not, is a disgrace to the human race in many ways. Yes.

We are a people. Yes. We can find power in that. Yes.

My work here, however, is to talk about Judas. Because the film is a yes. A reminder of the quality the camera can hold. The quality a hotrod had in its now, even now, looking back at then. (See my article on “The Time Machine.”) The quality of poetry, of voices, of inner-conflict (because there is a quality to questioning ourselves and our actions).

In Judas, we forget we’re watching a movie. Great! However, we also mustn’t forget.

Because of the events that took place? Sure. But, for our purposes on this site, we benefit from reminding ourselves that it’s a quality movie, capturing events reminiscent of Sydney Lumet’s or Martin Scorsese’s 1970’s lenses, without mere imitation.

We’re not watching actors. We’re watching characters. We’re watching love. We’re watching betrayal. We’re watching actions and exploration.

Watch as the camera reframes Daniel Kaluuya during his speeches. Listen how the silence becomes a rhythm. Feel how bongo rhythms protect a scene. Embrace the cuts to black screen and how they signify a broken moment, as they once did, and how power is returned to the CUT TO BLACK transition.

The film is not a triumph, exactly, but important. Something to be seen. To be witnessed, that is, if you didn’t witness the true events the first time around (or even if you did, because you’d be watching a movie rendition this time).

True events? The title card reads: “Inspired by true events.” And let’s leave it at that, at the entrance of the theater, because we’re entering entertainment.

And, about that acting, I’ll admit, I’d forgotten that Kaluuya has an accent and is from London (if I ever knew that). I’ll also admit that I only recognized a few other actors: Martin Sheen (done up in dragon face, which is the new outward evil style not unlike John Lithgow in Bombshell), Jesse Plemons (up and coming since … The Master and before that), LaKeith Stanfield and Lil Rel Howery (both from Get Out along with Kaluuya).

Dominique Fishback (The Hate U Give) is as good as her costar Amandla Stenberg (The Hate U Give) is in Netflix’s mini-series “The Eddy.”

That’s confusing, but we need to shout out for these people! These actors are revolutionaries! (In the cinematic performance sense.)

Why am I drawing awareness to my cinematic-observations and self-awareness on a critic page in this day and age’s critics’ circle? Because I am not a critic. I am an observer and a lover of the cinema. I avoid the real lives of the thespians, screenwriters, directors, and producers as much as possible. I don’t want to distinguish if I don’t have to. (However, I don’t mind knowing the background or process of an art director, for example. That can be very interesting and run the show. Ever see “The Queen’s Gambit?” Art direction and set design surpass all performances. Sorry.)

Judas and the Black Messiah places the timepiece well, times out the peace well, and places its pieces well. (Like chess!) The film is nothing startlingly new, but brilliantly plain, as are long-lasting messages to the future.

Maybe it is a triumph. I don’t know. I’ve only seen it once.

Oh and, yes, the acting – superb.

[NOTE: I wrote this back in early March. I recently viewed Judas and the Black Messiah a second time on a plane. I thought it and the acting was just okay, but I already wrote an article bout mini screens. My initial reaction stands for something, though, right?]
Dan Jones

Author Dan Jones

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