Fruitvale Station Jul 26, 2013 14:00:27 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Jul 26, 2013 14:00:27 GMT -5
Fruitvale Station (2013)
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Oscar Grant talks to his daughter in a calm, reassuring way in Fruitvale Station.
Fruitvale Station doesn't make the outcome of its story surprising; it flat out tells you in the beginning Oscar Grant's fate by showing you cell-phone footage from News Years Day 2009, when Oscar Grant was fatally shot at the Fruitvale Bay Area Rapid Transit station in Oakland, California. The cell-phone video is pretty low-quality, but we can still see and hear what is going on. A group of young men are lined up against the wall by three or so police officers after fighting on a crowded train. Passersby and observers are yelling at the cops, repeatedly saying they did nothing wrong, and we can hear Grant screaming but not fighting back. The next thing we hear is a gunshot and the entire crowd groan and scream. It's a frightening opening to a frightening film.
On the morning of News Years Eve 2008, Oscar Grant wakes up with the mindset to do right. A convicted felon, but a determined one at that, he plans to give his girlfriend Sophina all the support and love she needs, their daughter all the love and attention she needs, and her mother (Octavia Spencer) the birthday party she deserves. After being fired from his job at a supermarket, he seriously contemplates selling marijuana on the streets of Oakland, but what's stopping him is the well-being of his family.
Grant goes about his day regularly, talking to a friend at the supermarket, helping a customer who doesn't know one thing about fish-fry, calling his grandma who knows a lot about fish-fries, and concludes the day by hanging out downtown with a group of friends celebrating the new year. We get a sense of just how impacting he was to his friends, family, and people that were just mere acquaintances of his. He helps out a man's pregnant wife downtown by convincing the shop owner to allow her to use the restroom. When she goes, the man and him make small talk and the man gives him his business card. We see in these scenes just how simple situations like this made people aware of the niceness and true character that Grant possessed.
Michael B. Jordan plays Grant with the true humanity and power necessary to make a character like this work. Perhaps I'm still hungover on emotion and sadness from the film - although I doubt it - but it would be fair and completely justified to give Jordan and Oscar nod for his portrayal of Grant. He is a layered soul in this film, on one hand a convict and a known offender, but on the other, a true human spirit, sometimes immature, sometimes contradictory, but invaluably loving and compassionate to his friends and family. Almost every scene in Fruitvale Station is heartbreaking to some degree, whether it's when Grant tries to help a dog after being hit by a car, or when he reassuringly tells his daughter they will hang out on New Years Day at Chuck-E-Cheese, buy a ton of tokens, play every game, and eat pizza together.
Perhaps because of oppressive stereotypes and negative images on Television, especially in largely urban cities showing blacks in gangs as thuggish, brooding, and violent creatures instead of people is why films like Fruitvale Station are such highly-regarded. They humanize a race that has been dehumanized quite often, and seeing a black person as someone who isn't morally broken and incompetent, with dreams and goals far beyond having sex and slinging dope (IE: paying rent, giving his daughter a great life, and being loyal to the ones he cares about) is something kind of shocking.
When the inevitable happens, and the polarizing gunshot is heard, I felt - not saw, felt - a large sense of despair and a silence of dread consume the entire theater I was in (occupied of about fifteen people). It was subtle, but unmistakeable. Some clearly weren't prepared for this story to pack such an emotional punch in velvet gloves, some probably didn't even know who Oscar Grant was and saw this film because it looked intriguing, and some were just trying to cope with what they just saw. I heard a mixture of gasps, sobs, and stray comments as I sat with tears filling my eyes. As I write this review, a few hours after seeing it, I can only produce a few more tears as I continue writing about it. The last thing I want to be is sappy and overly sentimental, but when a film reaches this kind of emotional resonance with a viewer, it needs to be noted.
Director Ryan Coogler makes Fruitvale Station more than a film or a basic dramatization, but an event in itself, with naturalistic writing, incredible acting in the foreground, brutally honest hardships in life, and gorgeous wide-shots, often including the beautiful cinematography by Rachel Morrison. Coogler's maturity is even accentuates as he doesn't make the accusation that Grant's death was racial in any way. He leaves that up to us to decide, but even walking out of the film, I wasn't really thinking about that. I was thinking about how an innocent life was lost, and how many others have likely suffered the same fate.
While the entire film is captured as if the viewer is a voyeur, or a fly-on-the-wall, the scenes at the train station take on a special kind of observant focus. We are almost a passenger on this train, in an unblinking, but often foggy and unfocused view of a situation that gets out of hand and ends with a senseless death of an innocent man. While the scene of violence is pretty brief, and features only one gunshot, the echoing and unnerving shot that it is, it reminds us that sometimes one shot in film can be equally as haunting as several rounds of ammunition being unloaded at one time. What follows this scene are some of the most emotional scenes of the year and they are handled excellently.
Fruitvale Station is a triumph and undoubtedly one of the saddest, but most important films of 2013. Like its protagonist, even at eighty-five minutes, the event may be long-gone, but it's not forgotten.
NOTE: My video review of Fruitvale Station, www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7it_YMPVzE
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, and Octavia Spencer. Directed by: Ryan Coogler.