Judas and the Black Messiah movie

Daniel Kaluuya stars in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” is now playing at Cinemark 10 and streaming on HBOMax.

“Judas and the Black Messiah,” starring Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield and directed by Shaka King, takes us back to the oppressively dangerous city of Chicago in 1969. A petty criminal is flipped to be an informant for the FBI, resulting in the death of an upcoming leader, Fred Hampton (Kaluuya), of the Chicago Black Panther Party.

Based on a true story, co-writers Will Berson and Shaka King take riveting testimony, transcripts and first-hand interviews to recreate the events that occurred during that pivotal year. The story carefully weaves together three different perspectives to give us the complete picture of how Fred Hampton was assassinated at the age of 21.

Hampton was seen as a threat to the FBI for being the next Black leader or, as he was coined, the next Black Messiah.

We meet the young Bill O’Neal (Stanfield) caught between a rock and a hard place as he is about to be charged as a criminal. Given the opportunity by FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) to have all charges dropped in exchange for information about the whereabouts and plannings of Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party, O’Neal saves himself.

Quickly gaining access and trust of those around Hampton, O’Neal does as he is asked, from both parties. The conflict he feels is palpable, but ultimately this man is no hero and, similar to Judas, betrays his people and leader.

What O’Neal lacks in morals he makes up for in his ability to read others and insinuate himself like a chameleon into whatever the situation calls for. He’s street smart with characteristics that always are self-serving.

Stanfield dives into this character as he exhibits his fight for survival, but there’s a glimmer of internal conflict as he battles his inner demons of betrayal.

O’Neal takes us inside the operations as Hampton meets and falls in love with Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback — a talented actress who stands out in this film). We get what feels like a private introduction to an eloquent man who is driven to help his people gain equality amidst the chaos of oppression and brutality.

He gives of himself and connects others with him to find a commonality among all people. Kaluuya, similar to Stanfield, digs deep to find this intrinsic value of love while having a coat of armor to repel the evils that rain down on him and those he leads.

“Judas” also portrays the preposterous paranoia and prejudices of the head of the FBI and those who serve the organization led by J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen). The targeting of the Black Panthers does nothing more than escalate tensions, making it difficult to not only resolve issues but to educate others.

The racism is ingrained and built upon to ensure Hampton and the Chicago chapter’s goals are quelled through raids and even murder. The film hammers home the disturbing elements of racial injustices as we witness the atrocities unfold.

Reel Talk Rating: 3½ stars

Pamela Powell is a film critic located in Bourbonnais and a member of the CFCA and the CCA and is a Rotten Tomatoes certified critic. Writing reviews for 10 years, Pamela also can be found on WCIA TV in Champaign. She can be contacted at pampowell5@att.net.

Film critic

New York native film critic Pamela Powell now resides in Bourbonnais where she has been reviewing big blockbuster films as well as independent gems for the last 10+ years.