Review: Fruitvale Station (2013, Ryan Coogler)

fruitvale station.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeRATING: 7.5/10

Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Ahna O’Reilly, Kevin Durand, Ariana Neal, Chad Michael Murray
Screenplay: Ryan Coogler

Ryan Coogler’s independent feature “Fruitvale Station” is a compelling drama, that shines brightly because of the director and a breakout performance by Michael B. Jordan. The film centres around the true tale of Oscar Grant (Jordan), who is wrongfully murdered by a white police officer on New Years Day, 2009, after a misunderstanding on a train in Fruitvale Station.

The camera follows Oscar Grant throughout the day of his murder, and it closely studies his life and family ties. From his loving relationship with his girlfriend (Diaz) and daughter, to loosing his job, and his heartbreaking confrontations with his mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer), whose birthday lays on the fatale day of her son’s demise. The film rests as a social commentary on racism and discrimination still very evident in the United States. And how “Fruitvale Station” did it was absolutely right, it was not preaching, it was direct to the point and gave you the message as soon as the opening shot is shown.

There is a big reason why I feel like director Ryan Coogler is more skilled then let’s say, Lee Daniels (more on that later when I review “The Butler”), but Coogler is not preachy…at least not yet. With his debut film “Fruitvale Station”, we see truths without pulling us down and throwing “racism is bad” to our faces. We know it’s bad, and the way Coogler showed it to us in his screenplay in direction is how it should be properly illustrated. No unnecessarily scenes or self-important moments, just the raw moments in the narrative storyline. Maybe it’s too early for me to judge Coogler over Lee Daniels, but that’s just how I feel about it at this moment.

Michael B. Jordan, the young black actor is loosing Oscar steam, but he shouldn’t. He’s so good in the film and carries the entire movie on his shoulders. Believing he is the character is another story. But what Jordan does is a revelation. With such a short run time (the films runs at only 85 minutes) Jordan gives us such a complex understanding of who Oscar Grant is.  Even when he doesn’t talk, his insides speaks volumes. It’s a very internal performance, and it worked.

The two ladies surrounding Mr. Jordan in supporting roles is Oscar winner Octavia Spencer and actress Melonie Diaz. Both particularly good in their roles, especially for what it called for. As the film came to a close, it’s hard to forget that these two women play a key role in Oscar Grant’s motives in how to run his life. So when tied together, the film became heartbreaking without having to be ultimately dramatic. Such a good effort for a first feature film, and certainly a special film that derives from the heart. Two thumbs up.


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