Even if you don’t know the true story of Oscar Grant’s life, the tragedy that unfolds on New Year’s Eve 2008 comes as no big shock in this film. Nevertheless, the grim reality resonates profoundly. Sadly, a story like this is not an isolated incident. However, first-time writer/director Ryan Coogler has stripped away many of the external elements and focused on what truly is a compelling subject: Oscar Grant.
The story details--almost entirely--one day in Grant’s life, New Year’s Eve 2008. Grant (Michael B. Jordan) is a troubled young man with a checkered past, trying with spotty success to get his life on track. Throughout the day, he encounters friends and family who support his efforts, as well as past demons who undermine them. Despite his track (and criminal) record, the film—occasionally with a heavy hand—depicts Oscar as a loving, likeable, compassionate man, leaving the audience praying for an impossible success story.
Jordan’s performance is Oscar-worthy; he portrays Oscar with a brilliant subtlety. The true genius of the film, however, comes from the three women, each seemingly representing a generational perspective: mother, partner and child. Most notable is the heartfelt performance of Octavia Spencer as Oscar’s mother. As a film, the pace is initially slow, but the final 30 minutes more than make up for any flaws. It’s an 8.