Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgIn the early morning of January 1, 2009, Oscar Grant III was fatally shot by the BART police at the Fruitvale station in Oakland California. The picture opens with actual cell-phone video of the killing taken by a bystander. It’s a compelling start to a story that I am very familiar with living in the Bay Area. What happens in the 24 hours leading up to that fateful encounter, is the subject of this heartbreaking chronicle.

First time director Ryan Coogler’s film is important because it upholds that an innocent life is something to hold sacred. On the surface Oscar was nothing special. He was just an ordinary man. Actually some could even contend he was much worse. Not an exemplary member of society, we see him as a liar, a cheater, a drug dealer, unemployed and as an ex-con. He also has a wife, a daughter and a mother – all of whom he loves dearly. Actor Michael B. Jordan does a good job at portraying Oscar Grant. We are drawn to him despite the fact that he is flawed. He is human. You care for this man. That is what makes the drama so effective. His loving relationship with his daughter (Ariana Neal), girlfriend Sophia (Melonie Diaz), and mother (Octavia Spencer) help humanize a man that might be viewed as merely a criminal at first glance.

Knowing how this ends actually gives weight to these dramatized events. When his mother encourages him to take the train because it’s safer than driving in traffic, the conversation resonates more. We get a glimpse of a passing BART train in the background one moment and the image is particularly haunting. Occasionally, director Coogler pushes too far. A scene where Oscar bonds with a well-to-do white man on New Year’s Eve feels like massaging the audience. See he likes white people! None of that is necessary because the ultimate message of injustice is unmistakable. Coogler shows that it’s not required for Oscar to have been a paragon of virtue for his life to have value. The point is that he had a right to live.

What went down in the East Bay Area early morning New Years Day in 2009 should have never occurred. Fruitvale Station covers a life needlessly destroyed by the people entrusted to protect it. The system failed. Through the course of one day we get a snapshot of Oscar Grant. The events, as presented here, will inspire anger, frustration but mostly sadness over a spirit recklessly taken away. Writer/director Ryan Coogler’s drama does not set out to deify this man. Oscar isn’t a saint, but he certainly isn’t a monster either. What keeps coming through each vignette is that he was human. His existence had purpose because he had a soul. In Coogler’s small-scale portrait, we get the presentation of an individual unfulfilled. A powerful film about an American tragedy.

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36 Responses to “Fruitvale Station”

  1. Been seeing this everywhere but haven’t been too sure weather to check it out but your review is amazing and I feel like its a must watch now 🙂

  2. Glad to hear it’s not too preachy. That was my biggest concern when I heard about the film. I’ll check it out sooner than later as I know it’ll be heavily talked about come Oscars.

  3. Unfortunately, this film has no takeaway. there’s no lesson to be learned here. You say, “The point is that he had a right to live.” You also say, “What keeps coming through each vignette is that he was human.” These are no duhs. Oscar’s right to live or his humanity, I don’t think was ever in question. Was it? Aside from some sentimental moments, this movie leaves us with little more.

    • Little more than great performances, a superbly written script and some of the best direction in any movie this year…

    • Of course his humanity was in question. This is a movie about a miscarriage of justice. His rights were taken away. If his freedom to live was never in question, why is he dead? There are much deeper issues at work if you look.

      • I think Oscar died as a result of an accident. The cop meant to use his taser and accidentally drew his gun and fired. I don’t think the filmmaker portrays it as anything but an accident. The cop who shot Oscar wasn’t even the cop who was in Oscar’s face being racist, and unlike in the Trayvon Martin case, the cop who shot Oscar was found guilty, so I don’t think there was a miscarriage of justice here. It was just an unfortunate tragedy. I think the deeper issues are more observed superficially than actually explored with any depth.

      • Oscar was pulled off the train because he looked like he was guilty. The cops did not see the fight. The final scene is shot ambiguously. It’s not clear what happened. I wasn’t even sure who fired the shot at first.

        Whether it was an accident is really irrelevant to this poor man’s life. If you don’t think his death was a miscarriage of justice, that he deserved to die, then we have nothing more to discuss.

  4. Nice review Mark. For me, wasn’t as deep as it could have gone with it’s subject material, but it definitely does get the conversation going!

  5. GaryLee828 Says:

    Nice review. I have been impressed with Jordan since “Chronicle” and a role on “House” where he was blind, and have been looking forward to seeing his future work and I bet he’s great here, but I don’t think I can subject myself to the content of this one; I get too riled-up at stuff like this.

    But I look forward to seeing him play Apollo Creed’s son in the upcoming “Rocky” installment; if I’m not mistaken Rocky is going to manage Apollo Creed’s son (and Jordan is in talks to snag the role). I like the premise. 🙂

    • Jordan was on The Wire back in 2002 during its first season as well.

      I think this would be Rocky 7 I believe. Not really interested but whatever. Any word on whether Carl Weathers will return as well?

      • GaryLee828 Says:

        Apollo died on part 4, so unless this is a supernatural installment, I doubt it! LOL.

        Rocky Balboa (6) was well done. Did you see it? It wasn’t silly or over-the-top; it was just about a retired Rocky trying to get by in life – and after a while the world champion challenges him to an exhibition charity match after ESPN reported that Rocky was a better former champ, etc.

        But anyway, it was well done; and if they do a part 7 then Rocky would be a manager, and I think that’s a good fit for him considering what a strong mentor he is, etc.

        I need to watch THE WIRE; i have the series on DVD, but have yet to watch, and now that I know Jordan is on it gives me more incentive; thnx for the 411!

      • Ordinarily death means a character will not return. However as we have seen (Fast and Furious 6) that does not preclude a character from coming back to life. Oh she was never really dead, right?!

        I did see Rocky 6. I can’t even remember it. Although it seems like EVERY Rocky story is about him trying to claw his way back to the top. LOL

      • GaryLee828 Says:

        Yeah, Rocky 6 was a pretty simple movie; some may not have liked it much considering there wasn’t much boxing. I just liked the story of a man who had once been on top of the world and in the constant limelight learning how to cope in life after the death of his wife and less media attention, etc.

        I haven’t seen any of the F&F movies, so I wouldn’t know. lol.

  6. Stellar review, Mark! This one seems like it’ll be a big contender during the next award season. Very curious about it.

  7. Excellent movie. Great acting and great retelling of an incident that should have never happened. Very emotional at the end. 4 1/2 stars.

  8. This is wonderful! I have been looking for a great drama for 2013. Thanks for the recommendation! Hopefully Michael B. Jordan will be the new Johnny Storm aka Human Torch!

  9. Nice review. I’ve seen a few trailers for this and you’ve peaked my interest for this movie. Also, I saw Upstream Color the other day and enjoyed it more than you (my review should be out tomorrow).

  10. Great review Mark. I’ve been hearing very positive things about this tragic day-in-the-life tale. I’m happy to learn that it paints a nuanced portrait of Oscar through its screenplay and an excellent performance by Michael B. Jordan, since I don’t like biopics that falsely make their subjects seem like saints. Like you, I probably won’t dig the bit trying hard to ingratiate him with a white audience, although thankfully you make it sound like only a minor speed bump. I feel like this will be a must-see for me this year.

  11. “His existence had purpose because he had a soul.” That is the perfect clear and simple argument. Period. Good review!

  12. Great review Mark, really want to check this one out and of course it is not playing at what passes for an art theater around these parts.

  13. I looked this one up, because I’ve finally watched it now that it’s made it’s way to blu-ray.

    And I agree. This film is terrific – I just slated it as my third favorite of the year. I especially agree, by the way, that knowing the outcome, remembering the news-story, actually makes the film more poignant.

    And I am puzzled. How are none of these actors being considered for awards? And/or how is Coogler’s screenplay not being lauded as one of the year’s best?

    • The Independent Spirit Awards as well as quite a few critics circles considered the actors as well as the film for awards: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2334649/awards?ref_=tt_awd

      They haven’t been part of the Academy Awards discussion however and that is a crime. I think if there were 10 nominees for Best Original Screenplay, you would most definitely see it get a nod.

      • I forgot about the Spirit Awards (I actually knew they’d nominated it).

        And forget a screenplay nom at the Oscars. It should win. I like Wadjda’s screenplay more, but since that won’t get nominated either . . .

        I guess my point is: I agree with you. This movie is pretty special.

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