Monday, February 10, 2014


In the early morning of January 1, 2009, while returning home with friends via Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) from New Year’s Eve festivities in San Francisco, 22-year-old Oscar Grant III was pulled off the train at Fruitvale Station by BART police after a fight. In front of myriad witnesses the young black man was handcuffed, pushed face down on the platform, and fatally shot in the back at point blank range by a white officer who claimed to have mistaken his sidearm for his taser. The incident incited outrage and protests. Writer/director Ryan Coogler mutes the hyperbole and focuses primarily on the 24 hours leading up to the fateful encounter. Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) feels as though he’s at a crossroads. He has spent time in prison for selling drugs, and his effort to stay straight is being sorely tested after losing his job. Girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), with whom he fathered precocious Tatiana (Ariana Neal), wants him to stop chasing other women and fully commit. By and large Oscar’s December 31, 2008, is not much different than any other final day of the year. He drops Tatiana off at her day care and Sophina at her job, then he goes to the grocery where he used to work to pick up fresh crabs for his mother Wanda’s (Octavia Spencer) birthday dinner that evening and to beg his former boss for another chance. He gasses his car, buys a card for his sister to sign, and ponders selling a stashed bag of marijuana before thinking better of it. He picks up Sophina and Tatiana, and they arrive at the birthday and make final NYE plans. We know how the evening will end, so even Oscar’s most mundane moments feel pregnant with loss and sadness. Yet Coogler never tries to heighten these scenes. He also makes no attempt to sanctify Oscar, and the marvelous Jordan shows us the frightening temper and troubled soul of this flawed man, but also his small steps toward normalcy and his kindness. Throughout this quietly powerful film Oscar is never more or less than recognizably human. Coogler tells his story subtly, without assigning blame, and transforms what could have been an easy polemic into heartbreaking tragedy.

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