What started as an upstart baseball career cut short, as Jamal in Hardball has now morphed into a super hero gaining powers as Johnny Storm in the failed reboot of the Fantastic Four. Despite the fact that everyone has universally panned this intended blockbuster, actor Michael B. Jordan is here to stay. A young actor who paid his dues both in television and in film, Jordan has proven he’s immensely talented. His roles after Fantastic Four is what are destined to be monster hits. But before we travel into the future and start predicting Oscars for this young thespian, I’ll look back and explain why he’s next.
Let’s start on the diamond, where a young baseball team led by a gambling debt ridden coach on the streets of Chicago is on the rise. There is a lot of misconception that surrounds Hardball because critically it is labeled a “bad” movie. The critics must have seen a different movie altogether because Hardball is a gritty classic. Even though Keanu Reeves as coach sounds ridiculous, much of the movie is still Keanu taking care of business. The actors surrounding Reeves in this baseball drama shine, mainly the young actors but Diane Lane gets a good review because she’s Diane Lane. John Hawkes plays Reeves pal and was impressive which would serve him well on the doomed fishing boat in The Perfect Storm as “Bugsy.”
Enough with the adult actors in this movie, this is a kids tale and the Oscar for that goes to Michael B. Jordan as Jamal. Not that the other child actors did bad, but as a character piece, the role of Jamal screams Academy. Adversity is what the kids on this baseball team face on a daily basis and their baseball team serves as a necessary respite from inner city violence. Where the movie shows its first dark glimpse into this reality is when Jamal is informed that his mom lied on his registration because he was two months too old to play. Jamal’s heartbreaking meltdown in this scene was the first clear sign that Jordan was a force on screen. The movie overall tugs at the heart strings with such tenacity that it left me explaining how my eyes sweat on occasion. The outcome for Jamal in the film is grim as by the end he has joined another team, that of an inner city gang. Where many remember the story arc of G-Baby (emotional sniffling sound) it’s the arc of Jamal that demands the most analysis. After 14 years since Hardball was released, of all the actors involved it is Jordan that’s become it’s biggest current star.
II. The Wire
Michael B. Jordan although born in California was raised in Newark, New Jersey and was quite familiar with the inner city he routinely portrayed on screen. The experience surely helped in his performance as Wallace in the Baltimore juggernaut, The Wire. I was late to The Wire train and didn’t watch the whole series until a few years ago. When I began the journey of the David Simon acclaimed hit I immediately rooted for Wallace to somehow make it out of Baltimore. Jordan played the role of Wallace to perfection and although his presence was only for one season, everyone knows that the arc of Wallace sets the foundation for the rest of the series. Jordan was 16 during this role and if the Emmy’s had any sense he would have received an award. A role in an acclaimed HBO show is impressive for anyone but for a 16-year-old Jordan it was just the beginning. Having already played two iconic characters, Jordan was training for his roles ahead.
III. Friday Night Lights
What does an actor do after acting in one of the most popular TV shows in history? Hop on another historical TV show and quarterback the entire conclusion of the franchise. Vince Howard is a 17 year old who is just about out of last chances when the cops roll him up to the East Dillon Football field. Howard is introduced by a Detective to coach Eric Taylor who has just arrived to the newly re-opened East Dillon High. Where we are in the overall story of Friday Night Lights is pretty strange considering where it all started. Coach Taylor has now been fired from the Dillon Panthers because of crazy boosters. His Wife Tami Taylor somehow without any administrative experience became the Principal of Dillon High after one year of being its counselor. In the town of Dillon what began, as what I thought was a small town all of a sudden has large urban projects that are a polarizing issue in the community. The margin of error is now remarkably low as things are getting a bit out of hand narratively for this series.
Luckily for everyone involved there is a quarterback who can take control of this situation and an actor who can handle the emotional depth of Vince Howard. As easy as this series could have gone completely off the rails it is Howard that keeps the story grounded. Jordan has plenty of memorable scenes as Vince but it’s when his father is released from jail that Jordan shows his innate acting ability. Anger, resentment and vulnerability can be difficult to portray effectively, but Jordan does so in stride. His clutch depiction of Vince gives this classic TV series the second life many thought would not happen. Friday Night Lights in its latter half was saved by the addition of Jordan and his future on and off the field had the most potential from the jump. After saving this TV franchise Jordan had ambitions to solidify his movie career and his next role would make me a believer that his talent was once in a generation.
IV. Fruitvale Station
During the early hours of Jan 1st, 2009 Oscar Grant was on a train with friends on the way home from New Years Eve celebrations. The train was headed to Fruitvale Station in Oakland California. A fight broke out on the train and the police pulled Grant along with several of his friends off the train. What was deemed a chaotic situation turned tragic as the next several minutes were caught by various cell phone cameras and horrified bystanders. Grant was being arrested and police reports were that he was resisting. As the officer ordered Grant to show his hands the officer then reportedly yelled he was going to tase him. Officer Johannes Mehserle instead pulled out a semi automatic handgun and a .40-caliber bullet and struck Grant in the back as he lay face down on the floor. Oscar yelled, “You shot me! I got a four-year-old daughter!” He would be pronounced dead seven hours later at the Hospital. Officer Mehserle would be indicted with Involuntary Manslaughter and his attorneys described the ordeal as a tragic accident. He was released on parole in 2011 after time already served during the court process. The Bay area protested, peacefully at first and eventually with riots in the aftermath of this controversial death.
The story of Oscar Grant would be the topic of the film Fruitvale Station which focuses on the last day of Oscar’s life. Michael B. Jordan would play Oscar and Director Ryan Coogler would make his directorial debut. Released in 2013 at the time of the George Zimmerman proceedings and in the aftermath of the death of Trayvon Martin, this film was momentous. Well received at Sundance the portrayal of Jordan would bring this tragic story back into the limelight. I was familiar with Jordan at the time and knew this was an important story to watch. The significance of this film is sadly all too important in the midst of continued police controversies in our nation. I was a senior in High School in 2009 when Oscar Grant was killed and his story resonates as much today as it did six years ago. The film captures the event and lets Oscar’s last day play before our eyes in lead up to the tragic conclusion. In preparation for the role Michael B. Jordan would spend many hours with Oscar’s family and friends learning about the young man who’s life would be cut short at the hands of a police officer. The backstory of Oscar would play out on screen, as his time in prison is one of the most resonant scenes in the movie. The commitment of Jordan to the real Oscar Grant is what makes this film important. Critics of the film claimed the Director was loose with facts and fabricated scenes to raise empathy for Oscar. I completely disagree with their take as the film does display the flaws of Oscar to the audience. The real life events of what happened to Oscar are the reason people empathize with him not because a movie adds fictional material as all movies inevitably do. Despite the best attempts of critics to off handedly victim-blame in their review of the film, the public responded positively. Jordan embraced the challenge of playing Oscar Grant and ultimately paid deserved homage to a young man whose life was tragically cut too short.
As Fantastic Four begins to fade in disastrous memory the focus is on the real project that will send Michael B. Jordan into super stardom, Creed. The trailer for this upcoming boxing movie was so good it made Southpaw irrelevant immediately. Based in the Rocky universe, Creed will focus on the son of the late Apollo Creed. With an already legendary cinematic name, Jordan will play Apollo’s son, Adonis Creed. A reunion of Wire cast members is cemented, as Wood Harris known for his depiction of Avon Barksdale will also be in Creed. Of course Sylvester Stallone is in this too and will likely become Adonis’s trainer. What needs to be noted is the immense athletic talent in this film. Wood Harris is not just known for his role in the Wire but also as the iconic Julius Campbell in Remember the Titans. The combination of Vince Howard and Julius Campbell in one movie is enough to win multiple state titles, or Oscars, whichever one appeals to you most.
VI. Onward and Forward
Studio executives have been making the right choice by putting Jordan in commercial projects. This does not always breed success as was evident in the terrible That Awkward Moment and the recent Fantastic Four. Jordan needs more character pieces as seen in Hardball, The Wire, Friday Night Lights and the momentous Fruitvale Station. A reunification is in order for Creed as Director Ryan Coogler and Jordan bring their Fruitvale Station magic to this Boxing epic. Safe to say I’m sold on the project and I’m by no means an avid Rocky fan. I’m a true believer that Michel B. Jordan is next. He just needs Creed to be a success and then quickly get past the Fantastic Four sequel that for some reason is still happening. Jordan needs a gritty crime drama maybe one where he plays a cop to continue showing his versatility. Initially he seemed linked to upcoming Triple Nine a film about corrupt cops but it doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. I’m ready for Jordan to be in 3 or 4 consecutive hit movies. In this age of revamped franchises if I were a studio head I would bring back the Blade franchise and put Jordan at the helm. Jordan is the rare talent that could take a Wesley Snipes masterpiece and make it all his own. Since I have no such authority I’m just going to wait, and witness the rise of Jordan. If in 2015 Jordan is not on the A-list by 2016 he’ll be on his own list. Give the man the keys and let talent do what talent does best, impress.