Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland
Markus Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Rated R for some violence, language throughout and some drug use
Now playing at Century 20 Oakridge Mall in San Jose California:
During the early hours of New Year’s morning 2009, Oscar Grant was fatally shot by a police officer at the Fruitvale BART train station. The Officer claimed he was reaching for his Taser and had pulled out his gun by mistake. Beginning with actual camera phone footage of that fateful night, this undeniably compelling film dramatizes the last hours of Oscar Grant’s life.
Side Note: There are those who are going to refuse to see “Fruitvale Station” believing it to be a racially driven movie, with heavy anti-law enforcement sentiments. But it’s not. What it is, is a very well crafted character study concerning a young man who just happens to be African American and happens to live in Oakland, California (with everything that entails). In other words, while the actual Oscar Grant/Johannes Mehserle case was definitely racially charged, “Fruitvale Station” doesn’t attack or slander anyone in particular.
First time feature film writer/director Ryan Coogler (A BLACK MAN) seems to take great care not to deify Oscar Grant, or make him a saint. This character is flawed. This character is human. Throughout the day, we get to see Oscar go on a drug deal, try and intimidate his way into a job, have multiple arguments with his girlfriend pertaining to a past infidelity and have an emotional confrontation with his mother during a prison visitation by way of a flashback (which, in my opinion, was the best scene in the film). All of this culminates in a climax (masterfully foreshadowed by an earlier confrontation) which could have turned into a real filmmaking/anti-police officer fiasco, but was handled so perfectly that it’s sure to leave a majority of the viewing audience in tears. As well as a final line of dialogue, which will, in turn, have what’s left of the audience reaching for their tissues.
That is not to say that there aren’t any contrivances here, which make Oscar an overly sympathetic character. There is a scene with a dog and another where he discusses marriage with a random white guy, which both seemed exaggerated. But those are basically two tiny blemishes amidst the otherwise genuine atmosphere Coogler and cast maintain throughout.
Melonie Diaz, who looks like a young Rosie Perez (and plays Grant’s girlfriend) and Octavia Spencer (who plays Grant’s mother) both do really strong supporting work here. But Michael B. Jordan (who plays Oscar Grant) absolutely steals the show. I will forgo the Michael Jordan jokes for the sake of my readership. Anyway, aside from the actual direction, his performance is a huge reason why this film works as well as it does. Everything from the simple facial expressions he gives at certain junctures, which do more for his character development than any line of dialogue ever could, to his flawless delivery of Bay Area lingo, everything about Jordan’s performance is so believably on point. And even though it’s too early to say that he will most likely get an “Oscar” nomination; much like Ryan Gosling in “Half Nelson”, Michael B. Jordan in “Fruitvale Station” is sure to be the breakout performance which will have members of the Academy sit up and take notice.
Final Thought: The brilliance of this movie lies in its construction. As simplistic as it may be, it is supremely effective. The snapshot we get into not only the lives of these characters, but of the city of Oakland itself is so masterfully on display, that I can say (without a doubt) that “Fruitvale Station” now stands as the best directed movie of the year. And while this will not hit with the same cultural impact as something like “Boyz N the Hood” did in its time, the politics of the actual situation and Bay Area bias aside, “Fruitvale Station” is simply a superb film on nearly every level. In fact, it’s the best African American movie since 2011’s “Pariah”.
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