This award winning movie is based on the last day in the life of Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan, That Awkward Moment, 2014) , a young black man from the Oakland/San Francisco Bay area who despite all that is wrong in his life wants to do things better. Directed by Ryan Coogler, this was his first feature length motion picture.
Oscar is a small time criminal who has served time in the near distant past ( the film does not go in to details of why he served time, but that is a matter of public record). Although out of prison a while not, he is still struggling to do this right. Indeed our first scene with him is of he and his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz, A guide to Recognising Your Saints, 2006) discussing his having cheated on her with another women. We quickly get an insight into his life; His girlfriend is the mother of his child, but they do not all live together, instead staying with respective families.
Trying to convince Sophina, he is on the right track, he resolves to do things right. With this begins a journey that takes him through his day. I’m not going to recount the day, play-by-play. What we see is a young man trying to make things right and start over. This is at one and the same time the most importantant aspect of the movie and also perhaps in the weakest. Some watching this have thought that the first half of the film tended to paint Oscar in to some kind of Saint who has had his Damascus moment. This is not necessarily the case. At least two of the events in his day have no basis in fact and were added by the director to further build the character of Oscar.
Apart from his girlfriend, Sophina, Oscar also has two other powerful females in his life, his daughter Tatiana (Adriana Neal, Repentance, 2013) whom he adores and his mother, Wanda (Octavia Spencer, Snowpiercer, 2013) who plays the archetypal mother, strong and though when she needs to be and loving at the same time.
In many ways this movie could be a case of “What ifs” but it is not, it is a case of “this was”. The movie takes us through the day in what is essentially a well stitched together set of scenes which culminate with Oscar, Sophina and friends taking the BART to and from San Francisco to see the new Year’s Eve fireworks. Having previously decided to drive in , Wanda persuades Oscar to take the BART, on the thinking that it should be safer.
Events unfold on the train, having previously been the scene of good-natured cheers, things turn south very quickly and indeed end almost as quickly. Having stopped the train, BART transport police come on scene, led by Officer Carruso (Kevin Durand, Real steel, 2011). Coming in hard and heavy the situation is tense, Oscar and his friends, defend themselves and react to the police behaviour, vigorously but politely and non-aggressively.
Events unfold as they did and are presented in a tense atmosphere. The movie, while perhaps trying to find its feet early on, builds up to a crescendo with the scenes at Fruitvale Station, which come to the audience quickly and hard once they come. There is no escaping the emotion of the events of that night and indeed the events of subsequent years elsewhere have pushed this movie in to a very exact focus.
This film has an agenda, to show the needless death of a young man. Whatever your views on these events, this movie shows a young man, trying to make something of his life, despite the challenges he faces, only to be cut down as he looked to start a new life for himself.
A firm 7/10 with some issues regarding the direction, but overall it brings us the viewer along and allows us to be caught in the emotion of the events of that day.