Warner Bros’ Judas and the Black Messiah is the latest film to be released simultaneously on HBO Max and in theaters. It tells the true and compelling story of a young man named William O’Neal who was recruited by the FBI to infiltrate the Black Panther Party and spy on its president, Fred Hampton.
The film is a strong Oscar contender and has received rave reviews, most of which highlight the stellar performances of its powerful cast. It’s a performance-packed movie that audiences won’t soon forget, but there are some that stand out particularly well as genuinely awesome.
ten Martin Sheen (J. Edgar Hoover)
In a cast filled with many promising actors, Martin Sheen is the most outstanding film veteran among them. This seems fitting given he takes on the larger-than-life role of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
It’s strange to see Sheen, an actor best known for playing the idealistic President Bartlet in West wing, play as a political figure who has used his power in a disturbing way. Sheen only makes one scene shine, but he uses it effectively. The only downside is that the extensive makeup is distracting, though quite impressive.
9 Lil Rel Howrey (Wayne)
Lil Rel Howrey is one of the three stars of Get Ort to appear in this movie and his role here is quite small. Howrey plays a man credited as Wayne who works for the FBI and gives O’Neal a special delivery to use on his final mission.
At first, Howrey appears to be playing another comedic character as he is generally known. However, he makes a sudden change, becoming a much darker figure while also giving him a light energy that makes him even more disturbing. It’s a small but compelling role.
8 Ashton Sanders (Jimmy Palmer)
Ashton Sanders is probably best known for his powerful role in Moonlight, but he regularly builds an impressive career in Hollywood with a variety of roles. In Judas and the Black Messiah, Sanders plays Jimmy Palmer, member of the Black Panther Party.
Sanders does a terrific job playing this raging young man who is ready to spill out anytime. For a young actor, it’s a powerful presence on screen.
7 Darrell Britt-Gibson (Bobby Rush)
Darrell Britt-Gibson has another important supporting role as fellow Black Panther Party member Bobby Rush. He acts as Hampton’s second-in-command and is often the strong, grounding voice of reason when Hampton is not around.
Britt-Gibson does well with a role that isn’t flashy by design. Hampton is the group’s speaker and the real leader, but he needs someone like Rush to back him up. Britt-Gibson fulfills this role perfectly.
6 Dominique Thorne (Judy Harmon)
Another key member of the Black Panther Party in the film is Judy Harmon, played by Dominique Thorne. Although Thorne is still relatively new to the industry, she has previously starred in acclaimed films like If Beale Street could speak and will soon become an MCU star as Riri Williams in the Stone heart series.
It’s not hard to see what Marvel saw in Thorne based on this performance, as she is one of the strongest members of the party that intensely protects her people.
5 Khris Davis (steel)
One of the film’s most memorable scenes shows Fred Hampton visiting the headquarters of the black gang, the Crowns, and meeting their leader, Steel, played by Khris Davis. As charismatic and intelligent as Hampton is, he’s got his work cut out for him with Steel.
Davis brings a lot to this role and really shines in this scene, making it one of the few times someone comes face to face with Hampton. Davis infuses the game with power, confidence and even a little humor.
4 Jesse Plemons (Roy Mitchell)
Jesse Plemons continues to be one of the best character actors working today and his low-key performance in Judas and the Black Messiah is further proof. He plays FBI agent Roy Mitchell, the man who hires and manages O’Neal when he’s undercover.
Some actors may have played the character as a straight villain while others could have tried to make him more innocent. Plemons takes the right notes playing Mitchell as a family man who understands what the FBI is doing is wrong but convinces himself that it is right to do the job.
3 Dominique Fishback (Deborah Johnson)
With roles in The Deuce and Project power, Dominique Fishback is becoming a very promising actor to watch. Here, she plays the very complex role of Deborah Johnson who becomes Hampton’s partner and mother to her child.
Fishback brings to his performance the strength needed for a character able to challenge Hampton like no one else can. It’s also heartbreaking to show her struggle to believe in the cause and want Hampton to stay safe and out of jail.
2 LaKeith Stanfield (William “Bill” O’Neal)
In many ways, O’Neal is the main character in the film, and he’s a very complex protagonist. It would have been a difficult character for any actor to play, but LaKeith Stanfield proves he’s up to the challenge.
Stanfield is such a captivating actor and he does so much in this role without even needing to speak. He makes O’Neal’s journey of desperation, greed, fear and guilt so real. It doesn’t make him the villain of the story, but rather a truly fascinating character to discover.
1 Daniel Kaluuya (Fred Hampton)
Daniel Kaluuya has delivered a number of powerful performances so far in his career, but his role as Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah shows a whole new level of his talent.
Hampton was a larger than life character who accomplished so much just by talking. Making such a figure feel grounded and human isn’t an easy task, but Kaluuya does it beautifully. He is as convincing in the gripping sermon scenes as he is in the quiet, intimate scenes with Fishback. It is a breathtaking performance that will be remembered as one of the best of the year.
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