fruitvale_1Year: 2013
Director: Ryan Coogler
Writer(s): Ryan Coogler
Region of Origin: U.S.
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: Unrated
16mm, Color, 85 mins

Synopsis: The true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008. (Source)

With the rapid and relentless pace of our culture and the content we consume, it’s getting increasingly easier to ignore things that don’t immediately pertain to us while becoming numb to the billions of atrocities that are committed on a day-to-day basis. Fruitvale Station is the film that tells us this should never be okay, showing us that within each horrible crime or injustice is a victim made of flesh and blood, no different from us. Putting a face to one particular act of senseless and fatal police brutality, the film is a riveting portrait of a life tragically cut off much too soon. In short, it’s an important story that just needed to be told, proving that there’s more to life than just ourselves and that actions we take do have consequences.

For those not familiar with the incident that occurred early New Years morning in 2009, the story revolves around a 22-year-old Bay Area resident named Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), who was the subject of racial profiling, police brutality and ultimately wrongful death. Having recently gotten out of jail for selling drugs, the film follows Oscar around on the final day of his life as he determines to make changes for the better, navigating a world that can swing from cruel to full of love at the flip of a switch. With a girlfriend and 4-year-old daughter in tow, Oscar does his best to makes ends meet and stay on the right side of the law. Instead of heralding a new year and it’s boundless possibilities however, Oscar’s inevitable fate illuminates the terrible impact that just one peson’s absence can make.

While the film’s racially charged themes are well articulated and brought to the fore, what makes them really matter is director Ryan Coogler’s portrayal of a tragic and premature death. The film takes its time to slowly and realistically develop Oscar as a living, breathing human, full of regret but hopeful and optimistic for a new start. Following Oscar over the course of a day, we get to see him quietly bear the burdens of his family and friends, highlighting a series of ups and downs in the world around him as he attempts to take care of those he loves and cares about. When the possibilities of what Oscar’s life could’ve been are juxtaposed with the unflinchingly portrayal of what ended it, the film culminates in a paralyzing experience that’s ugly and utterly disgusting. In the end, there’s much to be said for Coogler’s smart restraint and attention to beautiful character work to contrast with the terrible truth of how quickly a life can be taken for the worst of reasons.

fruitvale_4As the film hinges on making us invested in a real, living person, it’s reliance on someone who could be genuine, endearing and relatable was not a short order. Luckily, Michael B. Jordan as Oscar turns in one of the year’s best performances. He showed great promise in Chronicle, but this film really gives him a role that most actors will never get to play or be able to execute with the same sense of sincerity or empathy. As an everyman who wears more than one hat for each person in his life, he has a magnetic charm that comes out through a kind heart, despite the silent, heavy burden that follows him around. I’d be shocked if there wasn’t any talk for Jordan come Oscar season, and I suspect big things for his future. Octavia Spencer and Melonie Diaz as Oscar’s mom Wanda and girlfriend Sophia (respectively) are good at bringing out extra layers from Jordan, sharing a wonderful rapport with the lead and portraying strong, smart women who break stereotypes to really make the cast feel like real people.

Fruitvale Station is a shock to the senses. It’s art with true purpose, executed precisely, organically and without any distractions. Coogler’s film almost feels like a much needed documentary on the way we as a species seem intent on destroying ourselves, yet for all the horror that transpires, the film somehow avoids feeling like an angry or vengeful response to the incident and more like profound and vital wakeup call. Building the film as a snapshot that focuses on the positive without sugarcoating the negative, Coogler’s graciously built a film not just about the horror of mankind but also about the things that we tragically leave behind.

Crome Rating: 4/5

SG