STARRING: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Ariana Neal, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray.
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY: Ryan Coogler
The past couple years, there’s been that one film out of Sundance that everyone had to watch. Little Miss Sunshine, Winter’s Bone, Beasts Of The Southern Wild, etc. This year, that film is Fruitvale Station. It’s a flawed film, but also a compelling one that will stay with you long after you’ve left the theatre.
Oscar (Michael B Jordan) is struggling. He’s struggling to stay on the straight path, and not revert to a life of crime. He’s inspired to stay out of jail, because he has a daughter (Ariana Neal) that he loves very much, and a mother (Octavia Spencer) whose birthday is today, and a girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) he intends to marry. Oscar’s plight isn’t just about his economic status, or staying clean. His true plight is that he will be dead in less than 24 hours. This is the last day of Oscar’s life.
Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a BART officer shortly after the ball dropped on New Years Eve. Unlike a recent case, where there were no real witnesses, there were hundreds of witnesses, several who captured the killing on their phone. Oscar’s death was tragic, and needless, and for some reason Chad Michael Murray is tasked with the role of playing the police officer responsible. It’s a small role, and I wonder why they chose to cast the kid from One Tree Hill in it. It’s clear that racial profiling plays a part in the decision to hold Oscar for a crime they assume he committed.
Over the course of the film, we learn more about Oscar. About his hopes and dreams, about his family and friends, and about the heart and soul beneath what is so easily written off as another “angry black man”. Sure, Oscar has temper issues. But watching Oscar holding a dying dog, sneaking extra fruit snacks for his daughter, or hooking up a white girl with his grandmother so she can have a proper fish fry, we learn more about who Oscar really was… beyond his race. He was just a young man struggling, in a rough neighborhood, with all sorts of bad influences. Oscar isn’t a saint, nor is he a hero. He’s an average man, a father, a boyfriend, and a son.
If you go into this movie expecting a Trayvon story, you’ll be disappointed. Oscar isn’t presented as angelic. We see him in prison. We see him with weed. What we also see him doing is turning his life around, on the same day his life will be taken from him. Michael B. Jordan does a great job with Oscar, really bringing an authentic feel to Oscar. His final moments are also Jordan’s finest moments. Also a shining star is Octavia Spencer, who controls her scenes with a quiet authority. Her last scene with Oscar is a powerful one, because it resonates back to an earlier scene in the film. What she wouldn’t do then, she can’t do now.
If I had one complaint, it would be that choosing to show us Oscar’s last day barely makes for a movie. The most entertaining part of the film is the shooting, which lasts for about 10 minutes. The movie isn’t even an hour and a half, and the first hour feels like a lot of exposition, and a lot of filler. Oscar didn’t do much in his time on earth, but I’m sure he did more than this film suggests. I would have tried to branch out more, and not stay so focused on these 24 hours. Overall, Fruitvale Station is one of the best films of the year, but it does have some small flaws. Most of them you’ll overlook, because the ending will take your breath away.
FINAL GRADE: A-