Linda Cook review: ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ is true story of violent, troubled era

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“Judas and the Black Messiah” is full of action, intrigue and politics.

It’s also based on a true story that allows its final three minutes to among the most compelling finales of any recent film.

Director and co-writer Shaka King’s gives us a look back at what led to a raid coordinated by the FBI, Cook County State’s Attorney’s office and Chicago police that targeted Illinois Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton.

Hampton, played by Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out” and “Black Panther”) isn’t the central character. The focus is on FBI informant William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield, “Sorry to Bother You,”) whom the audience meets while he carries out his “career” as a car thief.

When he gets caught, he’s given the opportunity to stay out of jail if he can get next to Hampton and keep law enforcement informed about the Black Panther Party’s plans.

O’Neal does this deftly, and ends up as the head of the Black Panther security crew. Along the way he struggles with guilt and keeping up his appearance as a revolutionary.

Jesse Plemons (“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” and “Game Night”) is Roy Mitchell, O’Neal’s boss of sorts who dispatches O’Neal to his assignments and guides his through his undercover work.

The performances are stellar all the way around. Martin Sheen appears briefly as J. Edgar Hoover, too, in a most entertaining role.

Dominique Fishback (“The Hate U Give”) also is notable as Deborah, a gentle soul who provides a love interest and provides a sympathetic tone to every scene she’s in.  

It’s impossible not to draw contrasts to contemporary society when you watch what unfolds. This is a film with history isn’t all that far behind us.

4 stars

Rated: R for violence and foul language.

Running time: 126 minutes

At Cinemark, Davenport; and Palms 10, Muscatine; also streaming on HBO Max.

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