movie review by Ron Wells
Fruitvale Station is based on the true story of the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, a 22 year old African American man who had previously had his trouble with the law, but was attempting to turn his life around.
The film is the first full length feature by director Ryan Coogler, who was a graduate film student at USC when the shooting of Grant occurred on New Year’s night in 2009 at the BART Fruitvale Station in Oakland, California.
The film opens with actual video footage of the confrontation between BART Police officers and Grant and his friends after a fight had occurred on the BART train. The video shows a lot of mayhem and then ends with a popping sound.
From there, Coogler takes the audience back to earlier in the day and we begin to get a sense of who Oscar Grant was as a person. As depicted here, he was certainly no saint, but there was also a kind and loving side to him as seen in how he cared about and loved his mom, siblings, his child, and even strangers, and as shown in how he was attempting to make right all of the wrongs he had done previously. Coogler paints a complex picture of a young 22 year old man still trying to find his way in the world. There are certainly echoes here of Boyz in the Hood.
This is a star making performance for Michael B. Jordan (The Wire; Friday Night Lights) as he lets the audience see every nuance of Oscar’s personality, both good and bad.
Ultimately, we care about Oscar because Jordan makes us care.
This is dynamic acting as good as it gets. Likewise, Octavia Spencer (The Help) is quietly powerful as Oscar’s mom, Wanda, especially in a scene in which she visits him in prison. The rest of the cast is excellent, including Melonie Diaz as Oscar’s girlfriend and the mother of his child, Tatiana.
But when all is said and done, this is Jordan’s movie. There is never a moment when we don’t feel we’re watching the real Oscar, or Osc as his friends call him. At one point he says, “I’m tired,” and we see all too clearly how the weight of the world is bearing down on him.
For a first feature film, Coogler has captured the last hours of Oscar’s life remarkably well, with only a few scenes (such as Oscar’s encounter with a stray dog) seemingly forced. And yet, there are real events that could never have been made up. For example, earlier in day the family celebrates Oscar’s mom’s birthday. And before going out to celebrate on New Years Eve, Wanda tells Oscar that perhaps he should take the BART train that night, just in case he or his friends decided to drink and would not be safe driving his car. The reality of these fateful events is the stuff of a Greek tragedy.
The film grabs you from the first scene and quietly takes you along for a ride that ends in tragedy for Oscar and everyone else concerned. The undertones of the race problem in this country are never ignored, but to Coogler’s credit, he never hits you over the head with it. It just appears all too real. Another young black man was killed–by police. In a way that should have never happened.
This film is the best film of 2013 so far, but more importantly, it will leave you thinking about everything you have just seen.
Sometimes in life, events happen that just seem destined. The making of this film, with all that it had to go through to get made by a first time director, and then being released when it was, just seems like it was meant to be.
Go see it for yourselves.
And then, perhaps, you’ll be like many in the audience I saw it with, and there will be tears. Not just for Oscar, but for all of us who live in a country where tragedies like this happen more often than we’d like to admit and which have no end in sight.
Release Date: 26 July 2013
Cast: Kevin Durand, Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer
Directors: Ryan Coogler
Writer: Ryan Coogler
Studio: The Weinstein Company