The Judas Factor

It’s cool to refer to older films when talking about new impressive films. A good film makes you want to return to the well.

by Michael Bergeron

But it works two ways – when people hate a film they refer to an older film as if the newer film was a blatant rip-off.

Case in point: “The Little Things” being compared to “Se7en.” Both movies have the potential killer and the investigating cop get in a car and drive to a remote location.

The tiniest bit of online research reveals that John Lee Hancock and Andrew Walker wrote their respective screenplays around the same time. Hancock had “Little Things” originally optioned to be directed by Steven Spielberg in 1993 while David Fincher made Walker’s script into a movie in 1995.

An executive at New Line, the company that eventually made the film, famously told Walker that he would “Never make a movie with a head-in-a-box.”

“The Little Things” isn’t that kind of movie, yet once the comparison dominates social media it no longer matters that the only thing in a box is a red rabbit’s foot.

Which brings us to this weeks film pick “Judas and the Black Messiah,” which creates a compelling narrative about the murder of Black Panther organizer Fred Hampton in 1969 by the Chicago police and the FBI, prompted by information supplied by a paid informant.

Immediately I was transported to a couple of films that had informed my sense of movie history. One was the 1971 documentary “The Murder of Fred Hampton,” that examines forensic evidence of the raid in detail.

Another was “Uptight” a 1968 Paramount release from helmer Jules Dassin that while obviously made previous to the Hampton incident mirrors the situation. The man using an informant targets a black revolutionary cell. The same source material from a story by Liam O’Flaherty was the basis for John Ford’s 1935 “The Informant.”

Dassin had himself fled to France in the early-1950s during the blacklist era and “Uptight” was a return to American films. (Both films mentioned are available on Youtube.)

So was Hampton dangerous and did his existence warrant a massacre? White authority always eradicates insurrection in any form especially when the perceived threat is a different color.

“Judas and the Black Messiah” pulls no punches as far as that controversy is concerned. The characters of Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) and informant O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) are finely tuned with each having scenes that make the audience alternately support and despise their motives.

Jesse Plemons plays a FBI agent who at first you think is a good guy but you want to eventually hiss at whenever he pops up while Martin Sheen (unrecognizable in make-up)  plays Edgar J. Hoover.

The direction by Shaka King never tries to impress with flashiness. There’s a kind of kitchen sink realism to the proceedings exemplified by people try to live their lives based on their needs rather than their desires.

“Judas and the Black Messiah,” opens in theaters and is available on the HBOMax streaming platform starting February 12.


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