05 August, 2013

Review: "Fruitvale Station" (****½)

Editor's Note: I am pleased to introduce a new member of the Reel Georgia team, Christo Stevens. It will be nice to have a fresh voice here, and I know you'll enjoy his sharp perspective. -CM

Michael B. Jordan stars in "Fruitvale Station"

Writer-director Ryan Coogler has made his presence known with one of the most memorable movies of the year thus far, “Fruitvale Station.” This true story takes the audience inside the life of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, played by Michael B. Jordan, on the day leading up to his tragic death at a BART subway stop on January 1, 2009.

The film opens with real footage taken from a cell phone on the night Grant was killed. Through a crowd of justifiably confused passengers we see the events unfold. As a cop shoots Grant once through the back after having already cuffed him, the distressed screams of the crowd linger and the screen fades to black.

What Coogler does in “Fruitvale Station” is give us an intimate and balanced glimpse at who Oscar Grant was. Race is discussed but is never heavy-handed, nor is it the center of the film’s focus. Grant is not painted as a hero, but as a very flawed human being with problems that he is struggling to overcome. Michael B. Jordan gives a fantastic performance as this young man.

The 24-hour period we are shown is seemingly ordinary. Grant has an argument or two with his girlfriend, buys his mother a birthday card, picks his daughter up from school and partakes in an otherwise normal daily routine. However, what makes these ordinary scenes so incredibly effective is the overwhelming sense of dread that haunts every moment. We know what is coming and we know that this is the last time Grant will experience some of these emotions. Melonie Diaz plays Sophina, Grant’s long time girlfriend. They bicker and argue, but are clearly in love and are drawn even closer by the relationship they have with their daughter, Tatiana. The scenes with the young daughter, played by Ariana Neal, are particularly heart breaking and allow us to see the softest and perhaps most genuine side of Oscar Grant.

Coogler has an understated presence that gives the film a quietness and allows for the intimate moments to be that much more potent. Aside from some not-so-subtle narrative devices, the story always remains effective thanks to its strong performances and stark sense of reality. The only scene that does not take place during New Year’s Eve, is a flash back where we see Grant’s mother, Wanda, beautifully portrayed by Octavia Spencer, visit him in prison. His mother ends the visit by telling her son that she cannot keep visiting him. She does not want to be a part of the life he has chosen and leaves him broken-hearted and angry. We get an idea of the kind of person Grant is and how his actions have affected his loved ones.

The film moves quickly and while the tragedy that occurs at the end is inevitable and immanent, the events leading up to it resonate with equal amounts of power and emotion. “Fruitvale Station” is not a film painted in black and white, but in grays, allowing the audience to ponder why the events unfolded like they did. From the opening footage taken on the night of the murder, to a brutally sad last shot, “Fruitvale Station” succeeds in showing us the life before the death of Oscar Grant.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment