The short review: Portraying a real-life event with intense realism, Ryan Coogler debuts his directorial and screenwriting prowess alongside an outstanding performance from Michael B. Jordan for one of the most important, moving films of the year.
The long review:I don’t cry during movies. I didn’t cry during The Notebook, Les Miserables, or those first 10 minutes of Up. However, nothing could stop tears from completely ruining my makeup once the credits rolled for Fruitvale Station.
On New Year’s Day in 2009, a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer shot and killed 22 year-old Oscar Grant III at an Oakland train stop. Fruitvale Station tells the story of the last 24 hours of his life. The film opens with cell phone footage of the actual incident, and every minute following feels just as visceral.
Ryan Coogler, in his directorial debut, distinguishes himself by handling the heavy subject matter with ingenuity and tact. An Oakland native who worked as a counselor for incarcerated juvenile youth, the 27 year-old director convinces the viewers that he knew Oscar Grant prior to Grant’s death, and Oscar’s last 24 hours feel as though the viewer is right beside him. From dropping off his daughter in school to buying groceries, we get to know Oscar very, very well. The viewer gets an intensely intimate microcosm of Oscar and Oakland. Coming off Friday Night Lights, Chronicle, and The Wire, Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of an ex-convict’s struggle to maintain a stable life for his daughter, girlfriend, and mother is the performance of a lifetime. Other familiar faces such as Octavia Spencer (The Help), Melonie Diaz (Be Kind, Rewind), and Chad Michael Murray (One Tree Hill) enrich the film and remind the viewer that such tragic incidents affect a community of loved ones.
The sniffling and tears in theaters aren’t from any attempts at melodrama or sentimentality. Viewers may find themselves simply waiting through the normal, ordinary errands of Oscar’s day; Coogler builds the anticipation carefully. Released not long after the Trayvon Martin case, no other movie is just as memorable and relevant. We’re reminded that early deaths and tense race relations in America aren’t just emotional cinematic narratives. They happen all the time and often disappear in statistics. Without special visual effects or a major budget, Fruitvale Station delivers a mesmerizing impact through its casting and a realistic illustration of a recent tragedy.
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Images: Weinstein Company