Ryan Coogler is undoubtedly part of an essential group of contemporary filmmakers pushing the boundaries of modern cinema, asking the pressing questions that other filmmakers simply don’t. Yet to make a critical failure, Coogler earned international success for each of Fruitvale Station and Creed, with the director finding particular success with the release of Black Panther, with the Oscar-nominated film becoming one of the most important superhero movies of all time.
Despite Black Panther’s success with both critics and audiences, it is his debut picture, Fruitvale Station that remains his greatest film, recounting the evening of Oscar Grant III a 22-year-old murdered by police officers on New Year’s eve.
Developed and produced by the Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker, the film star spoke of the filmmaking debutant to The New York Times, stating, “I’ve worked with a number of truly unique voices, true auteurs, and I can tell when I’m talking to one”. A gut-punching cinematic force, Coogler’s film would catapult him to success and into a directorial role in the Rocky sequel, Creed, as well as on Marvel’s first depiction of an African superhero in the cultural milestone of Black Panther.
Gritty and organic, Coogler’s Fruitvale Station takes filmmaking notes from his own, self-confessed, “favourite film,” Jacques Audiard’s 2009 prison drama, A Prophet.
“It’s my favourite film. To this day it’s the most important movie for me as a filmmaker,” the filmmaker told the BFI in an interview about his cinematic inspirations, “I find everything in it is operating at a high level”.
As well as Coogler finding artistic quality in the Oscar-nominated French film, it also has a personal connection to the director’s own life. As the filmmaker further explains, “For 30 years my dad worked in a jail. I’d go visit him, and I worked there from age 21 to 26, after I graduated and to the point I made Fruitvale”. Continuing, he added, “I worked with my dad whenever I could to make money. When I was at film school I worked there, so I spent a lot of time around incarceration”.
As for the film itself, Coogler points to the soundtrack by the composer Alexandre Desplat as one of his favourite aspects, noting, “The music’s fantastic…The story and the symmetry of it. Every time I make a movie, A Prophet is probably the single biggest influence. I make sure everybody who is working on the film has seen it”.
Alexandre Desplat is known as one of the finest film composers of contemporary cinema, collaborating frequently with the likes of Wes Anderson, Stephen Frears and Tom Hooper among many others. Whilst Desplat has never collaborated with Coogler quite yet, you can be sure that he’s on the filmmaker’s radar after his words of praise for the French composer and conductor.
Take a look at the trailer for Ryan Coogler’s favourite film, A Prophet, below.