Friday, August 2, 2013


Fruitvale Station

Directed & Written 
Ryan Coogler

     Ryan Coogler's directorial debut Fruitvale Station is a tense, emotional stirring, tear-jerker of a story and a fine piece of filmmaking. The true story is based on the life of Oakland, California native Oscar Grant, who was brutally shot and killed at a train station. The film contains a brilliant lead performance from soon-to-be-star Michael B. Jordan. He is in almost every scene of the film and is a commanding presence in his portrayal of Grant. The only minor issue I have, and this is a wonderfully made and acted film, is it is very sympathetic. It lays it on pretty thick but in the end, it is so well made that those faults do not completely ruin one of the finest made pictures of the year.
     Oscar Grant was 22 years old on New Year's Eve, 2008. He has been previously released from prison and is attempting to get his life back in order. He has a tough, loving, religious Mother and a young daughter who he thinks the world of. He has a girlfriend, with whom he had the young girl with and the relationship has its ups and downs, but they love and cherish their girl, and it keeps them together. The couple decides to go out to celebrate New Year's 2009 but a devastating event occurs. Oscar is involved in a fight on the train back from San Francisco to Oakland. He and four of his friends are held by police officers at the train stop. They are in a highly, understandably agitated state and Oscar confronts one of the officers. He is pushed to the concrete on his stomach, handcuffed and then shot in the back by one of the officers. He should not have been shot.
     Coogler starts his film out with real life phone or video footage that one of the passengers took of these actual events. We see Oscar being handcuffed, abused by the police and the screen goes black. The audience hears a gun shot. Coogler has set the stage for what is going to happen. Throughout the films rather short run time, about 85 minutes, we see Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) going through what will be the last day of his life. The audience, either knowing from the opening scene or through reading of the real life events, knows the tragedy that is going to occur. The film is a tribute to Oscar and a call to action against the racism of the police's disillusionment and stupidity, as well as the love he had for his family.
     This film by no means portrays Oscar as an angel. He was previously in jail, for whatever reason is not told. He has bills, a daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal), a girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and is attempting to get his life back in order. We see Oscar trying to get his job back at a local supermarket after he was fired for being late too many times. Coogler shows his immaturity, irresponsibilities and faults. He is a young man that needs to grow up. In a poignant scene we see Oscar, who has not yet told his girlfriend, admit to losing his job. She is frustrated, mad but they have naive hope. Hope that he will turn it around and stop dealing marijuana, and find a career or job that will provide for his family. Young love is wild, messy and usually immature, but when you have a baby girl, you have be responsible for all your actions and accept consequences that go with them. It is a how you react to these challenges that will make or break you and Coogler lets us see that, and we hope, Oscar is going to make a turn for the better.
     The thing that sets this film apart from other films that can be considered emotional draining films, and this one is most certainly that, is that Coogler not only crafted a script that shows the complexity and realities of these characters, but he also cast the correct people in the roles. Actors and actresses that carried and added to the films weighty, emotional story with honesty, and brought the characters true lives to the forefront. There was no phoniness. Jordan is on his way to being a star in Hollywood and most likely an Academy Award nominee this year for his performance here. It is all in his eyes and body movement. Oscar is a man in desperate turmoil, change and Jordan gives him so much depth, feeling and a genuine sense of reality. It never felt fake or untruthful. You can see in every step, speech, hug and look that Jordan truly gave his all for this role and wanted to pay tribute to the man that was the result of a thuggish, senseless murder by the police.
     The rest of the cast is brilliant as well, with Octavia Spencer standing out the most. She played Wanda, Oscar's Mother, and what a performance she gives. In a flashback scene where we see her visiting her son in prison, it was one of the most emotional honest, finest acted scenes I have seen all year. She is brutally truthful with her son once he becomes angry with his mother. He is complaining that she has not done anything for him and he is acting like a young, scared man in prison. She is having a tremendously difficult time telling Tatiana where her father is and how she is handling him being gone. She holds her emotions and walks out, without acknowledging Oscar as she leaves. She declares she is not coming back to this prison anymore and will see her son when he is released. She does not want to see her baby like this again. It is completely riveting and Spencer gives an unbelievable performance. She is the rock in this film. She holds everyone together at the end when Oscar is in the hospital but is completely devastated by the loss of her son. A knockout in this movie. Diaz also holds her own and is honestly compelling. So much range she shows in this film.
     Coogler's film does lay on the emotions pretty thick, but it got to me in that teary eye way. It was a depiction of a man that was by no means perfect, but was hopefully attempting to get his life back together. The dynamic complexity he showed by giving Oscar so much heart for wanting to be with and playing with his daughter, and calling his Mother constantly on her birthday, expressing his love for her showed one side. He countered that with Oscar not having a job and being too scared and immature to not only keep a job with a family but to also continually lie about it to everyone. Yes, the ending is as sad as ever and the two cops, Caruso and Ingram (Kevin Durand & Chad Michael Murphy) are evil people that made a terrible decision, but you feel for Oscar's daughter, girlfriend and Mother. That emotion is unquestionable and Coogler has brought a balanced, fine debut of a film. Hopefully he continues to make films that show his undeniable talent and does not get sucked into to the Hollywood system. A true talent has arrived.
     Ryan Coogler's Frutivale Station is an impactful film. I am not going to say he was blatantly attempting to make any social or political points but if you were not torn up inside emotionally and angry as hell at the actions of the police there is something wrong with you. The story is told so well and for myself, the film never got bogged down since the outcome was already known. Coogler's delicate directing and writing, along with standout performances from Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer, brought respect to Oscar Grant's life. The decisions we make in life will always have consequences, good or bad. We can only hope that we leave enough for our families and friends that keeps our lives going whether we are alive or dead. Oscar was a troubled but loving man that left this earth far too soon. Thankfully these filmmakers have brought to a successful triumph a film that honestly portrays the man.

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