One morning, a young black man wakes up and gets some wonderful news: he’s been accepted into his local police academy, which will set him and his family up with some degree of security and help assure his future.
He carries that feeling as he goes about his day, starting with his routine morning run. During his run, he sees someone who needs help and attempts to provide some assistance at the scene.
However, his altruistic gesture goes awry, and he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, as a promising morning takes a distinctly wrong turn.
Writer-director and lead actor Joseph Lee Anderson’s sharp, pointed drama could be called a slice-of-life story in its opening moments, shot with an eye for the ordinary moments in life and a muted, naturalistic style. But this life isn’t at all average, with its fractured, fractious legacies of race and violence, which play out in a tense, ultimately stunning way.
Shot in a hand-held one-shot, the short yet intense story unfurls in real-time, setting up just enough information and offering minimal yet revealing dialogue to get to know the main character. His choices and background reveal a man with aspirations and a drive to help his community and family. The storytelling is pared down, but its essentials possess touching tenderness and humanity.
The visual approach, staging and pacing work well together to throw both its main character and the audience into a tense, unsettling situation, which escalates quickly as a quiet, happy morning erupts into a cacophony of violence — and the main character finds himself the victim of a terrible yet all too common situation in modern-day America.
“The Jog” is incredibly quick-paced, agitated in style and serious in intent, and at the end viewers may find themselves struggling to process what they’ve used seen as it happened so quickly. Seeing how rapidly situations like those in the film play out underscores just how easy it can happen, and how one miscalculation or misreading can pile up, to tragic effect.
But the pace is one of the strengths of “The Jog”: split-second reading of situations don’t offer a lot of time and space to parse out our biases, and split-second decisions are made with the “background programs” of our assumptions and beliefs running in our minds at all times. And it only takes a split second to fire a gun, and end the hopeful future of a promising young man.