REVIEW: “Fruitvale Station”

FRUITVALEPOSTER

For those who may not know, “Fruitvale Station” is a docudrama based on the shooting death of 22-year old Oscar Grant by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer. The shooting took place on January 1, 2009 and was caught on numerous cell phone videos from witnesses. The incident would spark protests, unfortunate rioting, and dialogues about a number of feelings and concerns. Some have said this is was a racially motivated crime. I’m not sure there is definitive proof of that. Others have said the shooting resulted from Grant resisting arrest. I don’t think there is any way this tragedy can be fully placed on Oscar Grant’s shoulders. One thing is for certain, a young African-American man, a father, lost his life and it should have never happened.

“Fruitvale Station” marks the filmmaking debut from Ryan Coogler. He was drawn to the story and spent time with Grant’s family in order to develop a deeper more human profile. Coogler stated “I wanted the audience to get to know this guy, to get attached, so that when the situation that happens to him happens, it’s not just like you read it in the paper, you know what I mean? When you know somebody as a human being, you know that life means something.” It’s a smart approach that gives the film a real emotional kick. But some have criticized the overly sympathetic portrayal of Oscar saying that is glosses over some of his real personal and legal problems.

Fruitvale

When you go in the docudrama direction, especially when tackling such a potent incident, you open yourself up that kind of criticism. I did feel Coogler was softening the edges a bit in order to draw more empathy from the audience. That said, it never took away the hurt I felt for the family, the discomfort of watching the police aggression, or the sadness brought on by Oscar’s death. The film does a good job of drawing those emotions from us. Is the film emotionally exploitative at times? I think so. A few scenes are a bit heavy-handed and a more seasoned filmmaker would have probably avoided them. Still the overall impact of the film is strong despite these issues.

This movie is a remarkable feature film debut for Coogler but he’s not the only revelation found in “Fruitvale Station”. 26-year old Michael B. Jordan is excellent. Known mainly for his work in television and in last year’s “Chronicle”, Jordan has caught a lot of attention playing Oscar Grant. There is a raw authenticity to what he is doing on screen that works perfectly with the role. He’s joined on screen by Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer who also helped produce the film. She plays Oscar’s mother and once again she is very good. Melonie Diaz does great work as well playing Oscar’s wife Sophina.

Minus a few small stumbles, which can be expected from a first time filmmaker, “Fruitvale Station” is still an emotionally powerful film that puts a spotlight on an unfortunate tragedy. Coogler makes a strong directorial debut but Michael B. Jordan also makes a statement in what should be a breakthrough performance. Even though I felt slightly manipulated as the story was moving along, the tense and gutwrenching ending was no less devastating. In the end this movie works, and it’s impossible not to be effected by it.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

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25 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Fruitvale Station”

  1. Good review Keith. It’s a very emotionally gut-wrenching flick that tackles a very real problem we have in our world, and shows us that there is a chance to move on and work the problems out, but never forget.

  2. Great review sir! Glad to see you rate it so highly. You know my thoughts already. I just loved it and if the Oscars were so strong this year, Michael B. Jordan would certainly have had a chance for a nomination here.

    • Thanks. I’m glad you prodded me to see it again. At least a full star higher this time. I think I appreciated more of what Coogler was able to accomplish this time around. And the rawness of the film really worked in its favor.

  3. Very good review. This is one of my favorites of 2013 (I just saw it recently, as well. Haven’t even yet advertised my review’s existence to the world). Definitely an emotional experience with some amazing performances.

    I will say I think this one less manipulative than you seem to. Does it invent some things (Oscar and the dog, Oscar and the white people he helps/befriends, etc)? Yes. But it does that only to develop this character in the span of a single day. In this portrayal, he is compassionate,sensitive and charismatic.

    If that is all the movie showed us, I would call it manipulative. But it isn’t. Cooler also shows us that Oscar is also impulsive, violent and self-destructive. Not to mention very susceptible to others’ influence. In so doing, I think Coogler’s and Jordan’s portrayal nuanced and complicated. Oscar wants to improve his life, but there’s no guarantee he will succeed. And then someone kills him and he never gets to find out.

    • Yes, I definitely think it’s a bit more manipulative than you do. Yes we do get a couple of scenes where he goes off the handle. But they’re very small scenes and almost get lost in the narrative.

      SPOILERS!

      I also include his massive transformation, all on the day he dies, as a form of emotional manipulation. He puts off everything from cheating, to drug dealing, to obeying his mother all on that specific day. As Coogler said, it’s all to endear him to the audience. That said, it didn’t really bother me because the story is being told within a film’s time constraints.

      And then there are scenes like the dog. It’s one of the most heavy-handed instances of foreshadowing I’ve ever seen. Completely out of the blue and so hamfisted.

      Still, I think these are things that you won’t see from Coogler as he makes those more and more films. And I still appreciate this film despite these gripes.

      • I think the biggest difference is I don’t think the off the handle scenes that few and far between. I think them pretty constant.

        But it’s a minor point. We both count this a very good flick. You gave it 4 stars and I gave it an A. We obviously have more agreement than disagreement here.

      • It’s interesting, when I first saw it I thought less of the film. But after my pal Mark highly recommended it I felt it needed a second viewing. My gripes were dulled the second time around and I appreciated it a lot more. I love it when that happens!

        As always, thanks for the great conversation. It’s one of the main reasons I do this!

    • Thanks for reading! Hope you get to see it soon. It’s a wonderful debut from Coogler and Michael B. Jordan is a real revelation. Anxious to see how this film launches their careers.

  4. I told Mark in his review a week ago or so that I heard the writer of the film explained in detail the finale of this film, even included a clip of it on NPR. So I felt like it was a huge spoiler as I hadn’t heard of Grant’s story before. In any case, I still might rent it at some point to see Jordan’s performance. I thought he’d be nominated for Oscar.

    • Jordan was very good. I didn’t think you would get nominated considering the loaded field. This is a good film that has few flaws but its still powerful. That final scene you’re talking about was actually filmed at the actual station .

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