Based on true events, Fruitvale Station follows the movements of Oscar Grant on the last day of 2008 and into the early hours of 2009, when one event set of a chain reaction which would change the lives of many forever. My review after the jump.
Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) isn’t a saint, and the film doesn’t paint him as such. He’s a man with a criminal past, he has a temper, he’s cheated on his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and he’s recently lost his job due to lateness. What Oscar is however is a loving father, a family man and a man who wants to change, but isn’t quite sure how. All of these qualities and characteristics are on display, as we follow Oscar throughout the last day of 2008. He takes his daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal) to preschool, tries to get his job back, comforts a hurt animal, shops for his Mother”s (Octavia Spencer) birthday dinner and spends the evening with his family. Late that night he heads into the city with Sophina and some friends to catch the New Year fireworks in the city. On his way home on the BART train, Oscar is confronted by a face from the past which leads to a scuffle and the involvement of the police. The resulting actions of the Caucasian police officers against the African-American men is almost indescribably horrific; a moment so shameful, it’s understandable why the public rioted for days to follow.
Fruitvale Station is an important film. Events such as these should not be hushed up and brushed aside as isolated innocents. What happened to Oscar and his friends is just the tip of the iceberg. We may like to pretend that there is equality for all, but the truth is, people are regularly profiled, prosecuted and vilified for their race, religion, sexuality and more. The fact this violence was committed by those whose job it is to protect the community only makes it more shocking. Writer-director Ryan Coogler as presented a smart, well-balanced film here. It could have been easy to present Oscar as a model citizen, but instead Coogler shows Oscar for who he is, warts and all. At times Fruitvale does stray into overly sentimental territory, but even when it does, the message behind the sentiment rings true. Oscar was doing the best he knew how, but for a man of little economic wealth and a criminal background, getting a fresh start was not as easy in practice as it is in theory. On this night he was just a guy out with his friends to celebrate the ringing in of a new year, one he hoped he’d be a better man in.
Michael B. Jordan is incredible here, managing to portray both the aggression, pain and moments of pure joy that Oscar experienced. He never strays to far, giving the right amount of energy and making us feel like Oscar could be someone we know. Octavia Spencer impresses with her warm, pragmatic portrayal of Oscar’s mother; while Melanie Diaz is also great as Oscar’s supportive, but slightly worn down girlfriend. In the latter, extremely tense stages of the film, all three aforementioned actors are pitch-perfect. The intensity and emotion is so raw, and they nail it. However, it is Coogler with his disciplined script and thoughtful direction who impresses the most here. Fruitvale could have been a cheesy film which put Oscar on a pedestal and utterly vilified the officers; but instead it feels more like a docu-drama, a film that follows Oscar and shows his life how it really is, without comment or judgement. What you take from the film is entirely yours – Coogler allows you to feel whatever it is you want, and for that, I applaud him. Fruitvale Station is truly admirable first feature-length film, Coogler is certainly one to watch.
Fruitvale Station needs to be seen. This is a film of our times, a reminder that not all is fair in equal in this enigmatic society of ours.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Ryan Coogler
Writer(s): Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melanie Diaz
Runtime: 84 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: November 7 2013