Writer/Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Chad Michael Murray
Alright, members of the Academy, pay attention to young actor Michael B. Jordan. He is simply incredible as Oscar Grant III. The film is based on a true story, and the tone of the movie is set right away as we watch footage from a cell phone camera of the policy brutality against the real life Grant and his friends by the Bay Area Rapid Transit officers. If you have heard anything about the story of Oscar Grant III, you know the outcome of that evening left a mark on history.
The majority of the story takes place in the twenty-four hours leading up to the incident at Fruitvale station. Oscar has had a bit of a troubled past but is trying to refocus his life and get it back in order. He spent time jail but has since been released. He used to work at a grocery store but got fired for showing up late too often. He begs his manager for his job back, but to no avail. He has dealt marijuana before but is leery of getting back into that web of trouble. Oscar is not your average stereotype of someone you may think of in this type of lifestyle. He is a devout family man who loves his girlfriend Sophina (Diaz) and daughter more than anything else in life. Oscar also seems to be the crutch of the family as his sister tries to borrow money from him which he does not have. Of course, he takes on the burden to help her out. He plans and organizes a birthday party for his mom Wanda (Spencer) who has been a backbone for him. She is strong, tough, and keeps him accountable for his actions and the consequences that follow. Upon his mother’s advice, Oscar and Sophina take a train into town after the party to meet up with friends. She assumed that the train would be safer and did not want there to be any issues with drinking and driving. There is no way she could have predicted the events that followed at Fruitvale station.
I think we as a society assume have come a long way, but when you see instances like the Oscar Grant travesty or the Trayvon Martin case, you can’t help but feel like we have taken a step back. The audience knows at the beginning of the film how it is going to end, but there is that internal hope we have that everything will be fine, but it is not. Coogler draws you into Oscar’s life without shying away from any of the negative aspects. Some directors or storytellers may have sugar coated him or completely showed him as an innocent victim in the wrong spot at the wrong time. While that is true, the film’s tagline “Every step brings you closer to the edge” also rings true. Oscar is continually struggling with the concept that all of the choices he has made in life, whether they are good or bad, have an impact on his future. You may not think about it on a day to day basis, but our future is continually molded by the choices we have made no matter how big or inconsequential they are. There are so many things leading up to the incident that may or may not have caused the outcome. It really is hard to watch the police brutality and know that this is a very real story and one that continues to happen. You see how Oscar made some bad choices in his past but has come around to making his life better for his family. He was not your average, stereotypical gang member that these officers thought he was.
If you have watched “The Wire”, “Friday Night Lights”, or “Parenthood” you are familiar with the fabulous young talent that is Michael B. Jordan. His performance is remarkable and heartbreaking as Oscar Grant III. He perfectly nails down the various attitudes, demeanors, and language he has towards the various people in his life. At the same time, he carries around that underlying built in aggression that he previously let loose which got him into trouble. A flashback scene involving Jordan and Spencer when he is in jail really showcases how quickly he can go between light conversations with his mother to the rage he has against the guards. I really hope The Academy takes notice of this film and Jordan’s performance. Speaking of the Oscars, previous Oscar winner Octavia Spencer proves she does not have the Supporting Actor curse after this strong performance. There is more restraint and control in how she deals with the incident than I would have expected.
First time director Ryan Coogler packs a wallop of a punch. It is hard to describe the emotional gut response this film brings. It is not an easy film to watch, but it is a very important story to tell for years to come. It is by far one of the best of the year. Are you listening Oscar voters?
RATING: ***** (5 out of 5 stars)