Fruitvale Station is a runaway powerhouse film packed with emotionally-gripping performances, outstanding direction and a script that challenges viewers like few other films have this year.
The film is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old who was killed Dec. 31, 2008 as a result of an altercation on a Fruitvale BART station.
Oscar (Michael B. Jordan, Chronicle) is ready to get his life together. He’s been imprisoned and lost his job, but now he’s ready to do right by his girlfriend, Sophina (a terrific Melonie Diaz, Be Kind Rewind), and their daughter, Tatiana (Ariana Neal).
There’s no better day to start thinking about making positive changes than New Year’s Eve and Oscar is at a critical juncture in his life. Oscar’s tired of living as a small-time drug dealer and wants to make an honest living so he can provide for his family so a simple act like celebrating his mother’s (Octavia Spencer, The Help) birthday doesn’t drain his savings.
Jordan gives one of the year’s most complete performances and it should be essential viewing for those who want a glimpse of the next breakout young star excelling in a wonderfully complex role. Jordan thrives in his first leading role delivering a performance that signals his arrival as a major talent. In Jordan’s hands, Oscar is a fully realized and exceptionally complicated character — one who will frustrate viewers as quickly as he charms them.
Oscar leads a very contradictory life. He lies and frequently loses his temper, but that less honorable side is countered with a well-meaning guy just as likely to help a stranger in need and try to make others happy.
Too often in these films based on real people, we just get whatever side of their personality the filmmaker needs to tell their story. Director/Writer Ryan Coogler understands the value of providing a full portrayal of Oscar Grant and not just whitewashing the story to make him a sympathetic martyr.
Through occasional flashbacks, Coogler details the life Oscar desperately seeks to escape while making a strong case for Oscar that he has much more to live for whenever Tatiana smiles or his vast support system of family, friends and especially Sophina.
There’s a few rough camera angles and uneven transitions, but Coogler’s direction more closely resembles an experienced veteran particularly during the film’s tense final act where he puts you right in the station with Oscar and lets the chaotic scene play out without taking sides.
Spencer, the 2012 Best Supporting Actress winner, gives a remarkably composed and understated performance. Spencer’s role allows several scenes to overact, but she’s so much more effective keeping her character in control even in the most unimaginable circumstances.
Coogler shows limitless potential and he’s a filmmaker who will definitely be worth following in the years to come. Hopefully, that will involve future collaborations with Jordan who’s also set to see his star rise tremendously over the next few years.
Fruitvale Station is one of the year’s standouts. It’s not a film you can simply watch and forget as you’re left with serious questions and few easy answers of how quickly a young man’s life can end and with it all the potential for good so easily snuffed out. A must-see film for all audiences.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company