When it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won two awards, it was clear “Fruitvale Station” is headed for greatness. Its recent subject matter and powerful performances will hit audiences hard; bring some tissues.
Based on the tragic story of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), a defenseless man shot by the police, “Fruitvale Station” depicts the day that led up to his death. Oscar spends most of the day running errands; he drops off his daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal) at school and his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) at work before he prepares for his mother’s (Octavia Spencer) birthday party that evening. During the day, Oscar reflects on his time spent in jail the previous year and does what he can to support his family, including trying to earn back his job. In the evening, Sophina and Oscar take the train to celebrate the New Year with friends, but a fight on the train leads to involvement by the cops.
Writer/director Ryan Coogler knows that many audiences will remember Oscar Grant’s death, so he begins the film with phone footage of the events. In his first feature-length film, Coogler is able to begin with what you already know and then build up a connection to his character so that you are in shock when the shooting actually occurs. You feel for Oscar, you feel for his girlfriend, you feel for his daughter, and you feel for his mother; these are all people that you can now connect with their loss. It’s a powerful development of characters by letting them all be real. No one knows if Oscar would’ve turned his life around had he lived, but Coogler makes it clear that he had a chance and people that cared.
“Fruitvale Station” is an emotionally exhausting watch, mostly thanks to Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer. Spencer will very likely earn another Oscar nomination for her role. Their characters’ reactions to the events are truly heart-breaking. But it is Michael B. Jordan’s performance that makes their performances possible; Jordan portrays Oscar as a generous, good-intentioned young man with a warm heart and love for his family and girlfriend. He has some aggression and attitude that he tries to overcome, and Jordan makes it appear that he can. The middle section of the film gets a little slow, but Oscar’s self-reflection is key to creating a connection to the character and a hope for his success.
“Fruitvale Station” works as the best possible memorial of a life, the good and the bad, and works as an amazing film by showing you a family robbed of a hope for the future.
Rating for “Fruitvale Station:” A
For more information on this film or to view its trailer, click here.
“Fruitvale Station” is playing at seven theaters in Columbus: Gateway, Rave Polaris, Marcus Pickerington, Cinemark Gahanna, and AMC Easton, Lennox, and Grove City. For showtimes, click here.