Tuesday 14 August 2018

Movie Review: Fruitvale Station (2013)

A biographical drama inspired by real life events, Fruitvale Station tracks the final day of Oscar Grant III, the young black man shot dead by San Francisco transit police officers on New Year's Day 2009.

It's New Year's Eve, and in a suburb of San Francisco Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) is a 22-year old black man struggling to find his feet as an adult. He was recently fired from his job at the local supermarket, but kept that hidden from his long-time girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), the mother of their young daughter Tatiana. Oscar dabbles in dealing drugs, which has landed him in prison in the past.

Nevertheless, Oscar is determined to do better. He has an honest conversation with Sophia, and helps plan a birthday celebration for his mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer). He has an opportunity to make money through a drug sale but walks away from it. He also maintains a warm relationship with his grandmother. Determined to enjoy the New Year's Eve fireworks celebration with friends, Oscar and Sophina head into town on the transit system, but tragedy awaits on the return trip.

The feature length debut of director Ryan Coogler, who also wrote the script, Fruitvale Station is a quiet revolution. Going behind the headlines of yet another police shooting of yet another black victim, the film reveals the humanity in every life. Before Oscar was senselessly killed by a police bullet he was a young African American man trying to straighten out his life, and he mattered to his daughter, his mother, his girlfriend, his grandmother and his friends.

The film is remarkable for its unremarkable yet nimble content. Coogler rounds out Oscar and his environment with a minimum of fuss and a series of efficient yet effective scenes, Michael B. Jordan an agile and sleek presence in the stark and featureless suburban milieu. Coogler drives home Oscar's identity within a smoothly understated narrative, based on real events but also including some fictional imaginings.

The film can be excused for portraying Oscar in the best possible light, but his faults are still on display. He was an ex-convict, a small-time drug dealer, often late to work when he had a job, possessed a temper, and a tendency to cheat on Sophina. He also cared deeply for his family and friends, talked about becoming a better man and accepting responsibility for his decisions, was clever and funny, and showed affection towards strangers. And at just 22 years old, he still had plenty of opportunities to turn the necessary corners, given the chance.

Instead he received a police bullet in his back while lying helplessly prone on the floor. Coogler starts the film with actual phone camera footage of the confrontation at the Fruitvale Station platform, and ends with an in-depth recreation, filmed at the same location. The speed with which inept Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officers allowed the situation to spiral out of their control is stunning, the officers missing every opportunity to de-escalate.

As demonstrated by Fruitvale Station, there was absolutely nothing exceptional about Oscar Grant's last day, except that it should have never been his last day.

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  1. I'm in full agreement, especially with your last sentence. To echo that, I wish there were no material to make such a movie, but there is. And Coogler turned it into my #1 film of its year.

    1. I was really, really surprised just how good and effective this film is. Absolutely a strong contender for my Top 10 of 2013 list.


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