Fruitvale Station (2013)

Three-and-a-Half

Released around the convenient timing of the Trayvon Martin – George Zimmerman trial, “Fruitvale Station” is a film that puts to use the incredible ability to put a human face and life behind something that could have just been yet another news story.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, this is my recommendation to look into the real-life account. It’s quite murky on who is guilty and who isn’t, but first-time director Ryan Coogler opens his film with the actual cell phone footage of the incident that took place anyway. You may be given the impression right off the bat that this is yet another mishandled police situation, and in the minds of many others, you might be right.

Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) isn’t that great of a guy… well maybe. At least he’s working towards being the man he needs to be. He’s father to a four-year-old girl he loves. He lives with his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz). His mother, Wanda (Octavia Spencer), loves him and has seen Oscar at the lowest of lows in his life. He’s served time in prison for drugs, and he still has them. Things aren’t perfect in his life, but he wants to fix them so they are. Oscar still has things in his life that he has to let go of in order to turn his life around, and even though it’s an extremely difficult choice for him, he wants it more than anything.

To keep it short, the plot of “Fruitvale Station” is essentially a dramatic retelling of the 24 hours before Oscar Grant’s shooting at the BART station in California. We are told some of his past through flashbacks and conversation, but we do truly feel as if we understand him. The worst part about “Fruitvale Station” is that we already know the impending doom that is the end of Oscar’s life. We are told he is going to be shot at the very beginning of the film.

Knowing the outcome of “Fruitvale Station” gives us a sense of dread all throughout. Coogler masterfully uses silence throughout much of the movie to push us closer to Grant. There are many moments where Grant is alone. He ponders his life and the choices he’s made to get where he is now. The quiet helps us to think alongside him. We feel his thoughts. There is almost some kind of low rumble sometimes in the quiet however. It’s in those tense, yet silent moments that we are reminded of the end of the story. In fact, every single event that happens during Oscar’s day seems to add up to the eventual finale. We watch with uncomfortable anticipation as Fruitvale’s tale unfolds.

Oscar contemplating the events of his life.

Oscar contemplating the events of his life.

Despite Oscar being shot by the police officer, we are to some extent, left wondering who is responsible for the murder. We know who shot the gun, but metaphorical blame, if you will, is left up in the air. Was it Oscar’s mother for recommending taking the train into town instead of driving? Was it Oscar’s fault for getting involved with the gangbanger when he was in prison? Was it his fault for talking to Katie at the supermarket? Was it the fault of the officers for being so violent and forceful? We are left without truly knowing who to blame.

After finishing “Fruitvale Station” I realized the entire audience was black, aside from me of course, and an older white woman, also by herself. Throughout the film, most especially the shooting, a few older gentlemen behind me were quite verbal. It only stood out as a powerful reminder of this unnecessary death portrayed on-screen.

To sum it all up, “Fruitvale Station” is absolutely worthy of its “Best in Show” award given out at Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered. This is a stunning work of art that truly brings us in as an audience. We root for Oscar, despite his flaws. We want him to succeed. We want him to change. This is a fantastic performance by all actors here. Even more so, who isn’t excited to see Coogler’s next effort as director?

Sophina stands in the shower with her little daughter, Tatiana. The tiny girl looks up to her mother and asks, “Where’s daddy?” A long pause. Sophina has no answer. Neither do we.

 

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