Saturday, July 27, 2013

Movie Review: "Fruitvale Station"

I went into seeing the fantastically powerful Fruitvale Station knowing what the movie was about, and it packed such a punch that I can only imagine how those who go into the movie without knowing anything might feel. Any review will give you the same information mine will, but if you want to remain unaware, don't read on.

This amazing film, written and directed by first-time director Ryan Coogler, is based on the true story of Oscar Julius Grant III, a 22-year-old resident of California's Bay Area, who was inexplicably shot and killed by police at a BART station in the early hours of January 1, 2008. The film opens with actual cell phone video of the incident taken by witnesses on the train, but you're not completely sure what you're watching until you see everything unfold later on.

Oscar (a fantastic Michael B. Jordan of The Wire and Friday Night Lights) is an ex-con who is trying to keep his life on track. He wants to marry his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz), although he struggles with fidelity, he wants to be able to provide a better life for those around him but can't seem to find his way completely clear of his past. But he is fiercely devoted to two things—his mother (the steadfast yet emotional Octavia Spencer) and his young daughter, Tatiana, who is already proving herself to be smarter than her parents are ready for.

The movie follows Oscar on New Year's Eve Day, as he tries to put his life completely on track. You see what a good heart and soul he has (although you get glimpses of his troubled past in some flashback scenes), and how determined he is to make things work, job-wise and relationship-wise. You see some of the tough-guy posturing he adopts with his friends, but it is more driven by bravado than anything else. And as conversations point Oscar and Sophina toward that BART station, you want to scream at the screen, much like you'd want to when watching a horror movie.

Running just under 90 minutes, the movie packs a great deal of plot, tension, and emotion into a short amount of time. The theater where I saw the movie remained silent through the entire film—a surprise in these days of discourteous moviegoers—except for the sniffling and sobbing that overtook most of us as the film reached its conclusion. (Yes, me, too.)

The performances are tremendously powerful and feel authentic. Spencer is the film's emotional center whenever she's onscreen—you can sense her intense love for Oscar but her fear that he'll ruin his life. Diaz's Sophina is conflicted between wanting to be with the man she loves and wanting complete certainty he'll give her and her daughter everything they want. But the movie belongs to Michael B. Jordan. Oscar is far from perfect, but you see how much he wants to do the right thing. When the film reaches its sad, sad climax, you find yourself emotionally drained because of such a tragic loss, and outraged at what transpired, and that is partially because of Jordan's star-making performance.

Walking out of the theater after the film, I felt completely wrecked yet so grateful I had the chance to see Fruitvale Station. This is easily the best movie I've seen so far this year and I can only hope that more people find it, see it, and take it to heart. Not since Boyz n the Hood have I been so blown away by the spare yet forceful power of a directorial debut. This is one I hope finds its way to the Oscars next spring.

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