Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Kaluuya’

Foreground: Daniel Kaluuya as Black Panther Fred Hampton; background: LaKeith Stanfield as FBI informant William O’Neal


126 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The title of “Judas and the Black Messiah” smacks of folklorish hyperbole, but then Shaka King’s film about the assassination of Black Panther Fred Hampton is positively overflowing with Biblical  allegory.

The Black Messiah, of course, is Hampton, a rising star in black activism who was targeted for elimination by the FBI and shot to death in his bed during a raid in Chicago in 1969. Hampton is here given the hagiographic treatment…after this you half expect the Catholic Church to start stamping out medallions with his likeness.

Whether Hampton was the sinless knight errant portrayed here is a matter for the historians to parse; what’s not in doubt is that Brit actor Daniel Kaluuya sells this interpretation with such conviction and certainty that — while you’re watching the movie, anyway — you absolutely buy into its premise that this guy could really have become the black messiah. Comparisons to Bobby Kennedy seem apt.

Of course, saints aren’t nearly as interesting as devils.  The Judas of this yarn is Bill O’Neal, a crook and con artist recruited by the feds to infiltrate the Chicago chapter of the Panthers, rise within its ranks, report on what he saw and eventually set up the circumstances under which Hampton would be murdered.

O’Neal is played by LaKeith Stanfield as a man of few or no moral convictions, a survive-at-any-cost scrambler blackmailed into informing and, once in place, perfectly willing to reap the perks of his position.  Does he feel guilt? Remorse?

Hard to say.  What’s obvious, though, is that Stanfield perfectly captures the desperation and creative scheming of a lowlife being squeezed from both directions.  The authorities will send him to prison if he fails to cooperate; his Panther colleagues would no doubt kill him if they knew of his betrayals.

In a weird way we find ourselves rooting for him to squirm his way through this minefield of treachery.


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Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith

“QUEEN & SLIM” My rating: B

131 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Bonnie and Clyde” (or perhaps “Thelma and Louise”) meet Black Lives Matter in “Queen and Slim,” the impressive feature film directing debut of television and video veteran Melina Matsoukas.

Penned by Lena Waithe (an Emmy winner for her writing for Netflix’s “Master of None”) from a story by James Frey, this tale of lovers on the run soars on a pair of killer perfs from stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith.

We meet Queen and Slim — they have real names but we won’t learn them until the movie’s end — in the midst of a disastrous first Tinder date.  Queen (Turner-Smith) is a lawyer bummed because one of her clients has received the death penalty.  She called up Slim because she likes his looks and because she badly needs to vent to someone.

They’re about as different as can be. She’s angry, cynical, judgmental and, on some level, elitist.

He says grace before eating (even in restaurants), has a license plate that reads “Trust God,” works at Costco, doesn’t drink and maintains a live-and-let-live attitude. He eats with his mouth open; she’s grossed out.

He’s driving her home after what will surely be their one and only date when they’re pulled over by a cop. A white cop (played very well by country star Sturgill Simpson).  Things quickly escalate when the hot-headed Queen throws accusations at the officer. Within seconds she has a bullet hole in her leg and the policeman is dead, shot by Slim with his own service weapon.

Slim wants to stay put; Queen quickly convinces him he’ll be shot on sight.

“We can’t just leave him here.”

“Yes we can.”

“I’m not a criminal.”

“You are now.”

They take off with a vague plan to find Queen’s uncle in New Orleans and then, maybe, catch a plane to Cuba. (more…)

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Viola Davis

“WIDOWS” My rating: B

129 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Widows” is a sprawling crime drama that wants to be something more…and almost gets there.

The latest from Brit director Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave,” “Shame”) is a heist film with a twist: The perps are all women forced to engage in a crime in order to survive.

In the opening moments we see a group of career criminals — their leader, Harry Rawlings, is portrayed by Liam Neeson — saying goodbye to their families and going off to “work.”  That night all of them die in a fiery crash after stealing millions from a local Chicago crime lord.

They leave behind grieving women who aren’t sure how to get on with their lives.  Harry’s widow, Veronica (Viola Davis), still has the couple’s posh apartment and at least a small reservoir of cash. But her love for Harry was so intense and complete that she’s a mere shell of her former self.

Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) has supported her two kids with a dress shop — though her no-good hubby was always dipping into the till and, in fact, hasn’t paid the rent for months. Trophy wife Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) is pretty much cast adrift; her often-violent spouse (Jon Bernthal) has left behind nothing but bruises.

Worse is still to come.  Veronica is paid a visit by Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) whose millions, stolen by Harry’s crew, went up in flames. He now informs Veronica that she must make good on that debt…or else.  She has no choice but to recruit the other widows whose lives are also in danger; using as their guide a notebook in which Harry meticulously planned future crimes, the three women prepare and execute another multi-million-dollar heist.

This would be enough plot for most films. But the screenplay by McQueen and Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”) is only getting started. What they envision with “Widows” is a multi-character examination of modern American urban life…and it isn’t pretty.

This is a world in which everybody is a crook, including — no, especially — politicians.

Despite his criminal enterprises, Jamal Manning is running for city alderman (hey, it’s Chicago). His opponent is the Kennedy-esqe Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), whose closet-racist father (Robert Duvall) has up to now kept the seat in the family despite redistricting that has left the voter pool almost 100 percent black. No matter who wins, the residents are going to get screwed.


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