Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

Image is property of Warner Bros, Participant and Bron Creative

Judas and the Black Messiah  – Film Review

Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Daniel Kaluuya, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, Algee Smith Martin Sheen

Director: Shaka King

Synopsis: After being caught committing a crime, a man is given a chance by law enforcement to become an FBI informant as they seek to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and keep tabs on its chairman, Fred Hampton…

Review: If someone were to ask you about the influential leaders of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, names like Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Rosa Parks may jump to mind.  These are the names of extremely influential individuals who are the subject of curriculums worldwide, and have been the subject of numerous films, so that just about everyone on Planet Earth is likely to know who they are. Yet, there are certain influential figures that may not garner quite the level of attention, but when you learn more about them, it’s a wonder why they are not as well known as some of the the other influential leaders of this movement. This is most definitely applicable in the case of Frederick Allen Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois branch of the Black Panther Party, and the deputy chairman of the national BPP.

Having been caught committing a crime by the police, Bill O’Neal (Stanfield) finds himself in a very perilous position. If he’s charged, he faces almost certain prison time. However, there’s another option for him, as he’s given a chance to escape a jail sentence by becoming an FBI informant. The FBI are seeking to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the BPP, to keep tabs on the activities of Fred Hampton and do whatever they can to suppress the party and Hampton’s agenda to help the lives of numerous people oppressed by the society they’re living in. Yet in the eyes of the government, and the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, they consider Hampton to be a radical figure, and a substantial threat. Having had the most fleeting of appearances in last year’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, this is 100% Hampton’s story, and, from the very first minute, it’s an informative, exhilarating and extremely maddening chapter of US history that demands to be told.

Daniel Kaluuya is an actor who has been consistently pulling amazing performances over the last few years. From a run that started with his Oscar nominated turn in Get Out, to last year’s Queen & Slim, he has consistently proved why he is one of the best actors currently in the business. With this transformative turn as Hampton, it’s another absolutely magnetic performance to add to that list. Every time he speaks, his words captivate the crowds he’s talking to, which extends to the audience. You see a man who’s passionate about helping people who are oppressed by a government and a society that is built upon systemic racism. While Kaluuya’s performance is absolutely worthy of all the superlatives in the world, the equally impressive work of Lakeith Stanfield must not be overlooked, as it is, and an integral part of what makes the film work. We watch through his eyes as he initially is forced into this role of infiltration, and it’s a role that makes you want to hate him. Yet, as he spends more time by Hampton’s side, it’s plain to see that he’s starting to believe in the causes that Hampton and the Black Panthers are championing.

Alongside the outstanding performances of Stanfield and Kaluuya, are an equally impressive collection of supporting characters that includes, Dominique Fishback’s beautiful performance as Deborah, the most important person in Fred’s personal life. Additionally, there’s a great performance from Jesse Plemons as Roy Mitchell, the slimy and manipulative FBI agent who’s keeping tabs on O’Neal as he goes about his task of infiltration. With every word spoken in the film, it is clear what screenwriters, Shaka King, the Lucas brothers, and Will Berson are hoping to accomplish with this film. A clip plays near the beginning of the film of news reels from the time says “Those are not riots, they are rebellions, people are rebelling because of the conditions, and not because of individuals, no individual creates a rebellion.” When you watch the film’s events play out, it is fairly easy to connect the dots between the 1960s and the 21st century.

Given the horrifying events that the world saw in 2020, Shaka King’s film provides an urgent message that demands everyone’s attention. It is a damning indictment that in the decades since Hampton fought against this unjust society, that not nearly enough progress has been made. Furthermore, the events of not just last year, but of many years gone by, have shown that it is infuriatingly plain for all to see that the systemic oppression against people of colour in our society has not been dismantled. The rebellion that people like Hampton fought for, is one that must continue. “You can kill a revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution.” It is a testament to Hampton that in the years since he uttered those famous words: that they ring truer now more than ever. The fires of revolution are burning stronger than perhaps ever before, and long may that continue.

With a powerful and informative screenplay, combined with its two towering central performances, Shaka King’s film ensures that not only the world will know Fred Hampton’s name, they will never forget it.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

The Irishman (2019)

Image is property of Netflix

The Irishman  – Film Review

Cast: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Ray Romano, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Jesse Plemons, Harvey Keitel

Director: Martin Scorsese

Synopsis: An account of the life of Frank Sheeran, charting how he rose through the ranks of the mob, eventually arriving at the top where he meets the charismatic Jimmy Hoffa, and the circumstances that surrounded Hoffa’s disappearance…

Review: There’s no two ways about it, Martin Scorsese is the Godfather of gangster movies. With six of them to his name, the ones he has made rank as some of the very best films of this genre. They sit alongside the many incredible films that he has made throughout his long and illustrious career as a director. Though with his latest gangster epic, one of the most expensive Netflix productions to date, he has incredibly managed to surpass himself, by making one of the best crime/gangster films of the decade.

Spanning multiple decades, the film is told from the perspective of Frank Sheeran (De Niro). It begins with a flashback look at his early life, and how as a young man how he went from a soldier to becoming a hitman for the mob. Eventually, as he rises up the ranks gradually becoming more powerful and gaining more influence in the higher echelons, he meets and becomes close with the charismatic Union Leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). Whilst simultaneously exploring how Frank became entwined in the circumstances that surrounded Hoffa’s disappearance.

It should come as no surprise given the stature of the three leading men, and the four Oscars between them, that each and every one of them give powerhouse performances. Marking his ninth collaboration with Scorsese, Robert De Niro gives his best performance in a long time as Frank Sheeran. He’s far from a good guy, yet with an actor of De Niro’s immense charisma, there are sympathetic elements to Sheeran’s character. Though he might have retired from acting in the late 1990s, Scorsese reunites with Joe Pesci, to wonderful effect as crime boss Russell Buffalino. Though, it is Al Pacino’s magnificent, arguably career best turn as Jimmy Hoffa that deserves the most plaudits. In a film with his fellow masters such as De Niro and Pesci, he steals the spotlight from just about every one of them.

With the three leading men, all on outstanding form, there’s an excellent group of supporting characters to give them capable support. Stephen Graham’s mobster underling, who is definitely not afraid to offer a piece of his mind during meetings. Likewise for Ray Romano’s hilarious turn as a Buffalino family lawyer. On the other hand, there are a number of supporting characters who are criminally underutlised. The is best exemplified by Anna Paquin, as one of Sheeran’s daughters, especially as there was scope to explore her character in considerably more detail.

Coming in at just under three and a half hours, there’s extra pressure for a film of that length to hold the audience’s attention and justify that run-time. With his trusted editor Thelma Schoonmaker once again by his side, she ensures that the film is riveting enough to hold the audience’s attention. Though it’s necessary to help set the latter parts of the film, the first act of the film does take its time to get into its stride. Though, once the years have gone by and the endgame gradually comes into view, the thrills never let up once we arrive at the second and, especially the third act. Given that this is the shady underworld of the mob, violence is almost certainly commonplace. However for the purposes of the story, Scorsese deploys a clever technique to let the audience know of the fate that befell some of these characters. Instead he utilises the on-screen violence sporadically, for maximum impact.

Given the large amount of time that’s covered, the passage of time is illustrated through an excellent combination of hair and make up, and the de-aging technology that has been popularised by the likes of the of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though there’s one scene where it looks a bit iffy, it’s well done and effective to tell the ambitious nature of the story. For all those who may write off Netflix and its eligibility for the big prizes during award seasons, one thing is for sure, is that they aren’t afraid to spend the big money on their productions. Furthermore, when you’re bankrolling a high calibre director like Scorsese, you simply can’t put a price when it comes to telling riveting cinema, featuring stories that absolutely deserve to be seen on the largest screen possible.

With three impeccable leading performances at its core, under the masterful vision of the Godfather of the Gangster movie, The Irishman is an ambitious, enthralling, and poignant triumph for a legendary filmmaker still at the top of his game.