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Fruitvale Station - Movie Review

5 stars

In the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009, the horrific shooting of an unarmed black man named Oscar Grant by a Bay Area transit police officer in Oakland, California sent the area into a raging tizzy of protests, riots, rallies, and marches.

Though young filmmaker Ryan Coogler opens his film called Fruitvale Station - named after the BART station where the shooting took place - with actual cell phone footage of the deadly incident, he never sensationalizes the highly politicized incident, instead placing the film’s focus on Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) the flesh-and-blood father, boyfriend, and son who was also once a San Quentin inmate. By giving us a soul-stirring, warts-and-all portrait of the film’s main character, rather than a play-by-play docu-drama of the troubling event, we realize that when one’s life is lost, the real nature of the tragedy lies in who he was to the people that knew him the best.

With the disturbing opening footage still fresh on our minds, the movie rewinds 24 hours to give us an intimate look at the last day of Oscar’s life. Coogler counters popular criticism of the time by painting the man as neither a saint who had never done anything wrong, nor as the monster who got what he deserved that night, as so many felt. We see he’s just a typical young man scratching out the most meager of livings, while struggling to forget his former drug dealing ways. We’re touched by the calm and gentle interactions with his young daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal), assured by the respect for his mother (Octavia Spencer), but horrified by the bouts of rage that seem to come from nowhere.

You may not know Michael B. Jordon by name (no, not THAT Michael Jordan), but you certainly know his face. Having cut his teeth in support as the drug-dealing urbanite Wallace on HBO’s The Wire, and high school quarterback Vince Howard on Friday Night Lights, Fruitvale puts on display the young actor’s readiness to take the lead. In fact, next up is rumored to be a starring role in a Rocky spin-off currently under development. The kid is that good, and is certainly responsible for much of Fruitvale’s success.

Also of mention is the wonderful Academy-Award-worthy turn by Octavia Spencer as Oscar’s mother. We’ve seen the role of suffering-mother-to-troubled-kid many times before, but never like this. She convinces her son to take the BART train into town rather than his car so as not to fret over his safety. The point stings that sometimes just being a black man can be the most dangerous thing.

As Oscar’s exasperated girlfriend Sophina is Melonie Diaz. The chemistry between she and Jordan is extraordinary, making her split between displeasure and happiness - as she tries to cope with Oscar’s swings - feel all that more real.

Surprisingly, Fruitvale Station is Coogler’s first feature film. Made on a micro budget and in just 20 days with the backing of Forrest Whitaker’s production company, his film feels much bigger and carries more emotional might than anything put out by the Hollywood machine this year - something nearly unheard of from a first-timer. With an impending sense of doom that saturates nearly every frame, coupled with our knowledge of the real incident’s tragic outcome, Fruitvale Station is certainly a difficult film to watch. But Coogler’s artistic vision conversely makes it impossible to turn away from this richly textured portrait. Unlike most Hollywood offerings, there’s no silver lining to this one. Just a brutal reality that cuts to the quick.[/tab]

[tab title="Film Details"]

Fruitvale Station - Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: R for some violence, language throughout and some drug use.
90 mins.
: Ryan Coogler
: Ryan Coogler
Michael B. Jordan; Octavia Spencer; Melonie Diaz; Ariana Neal
Genre: Drama | Bio
Every step brings you closer to the edge.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Next stop, Fruitvale Station"
The Weinstein Company
Official Site:
Release Date: August 20, 2010
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
July 19, 2013 (limited)

Synopsis: This is the true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who wakes up on the morning of December 31, 2008 and feels something in the air. Not sure what it is, he takes it as a sign to get a head start on his resolutions: being a better son to his mother, whose birthday falls on New Year's Eve, being a better partner to his girlfriend, who he hasn't been completely honest with as of late, and being a better father to T, their beautiful 4 year old daughter. He starts out well, but as the day goes on, he realizes that change is not going to come easy. He crosses paths with friends, family, and strangers, each exchange showing us that there is much more to Oscar than meets the eye. But it would be his final encounter of the day, with police officers at the Fruitvale BART station that would shake the Bay Area to its very core, and cause the entire nation to be witnesses to the story of Oscar Grant.[/tab]

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