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article imageReview: ‘Fruitvale Station’ more commanding than a documentary could be Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jul 25, 2013 in Entertainment
‘Fruitvale Station’ is the true story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old man who was shot in cold blood by BART police officers at the Fruitvale subway stop on New Year’s Day in 2009.
Fear is a dangerous motivator. It causes people to act irrationally. When paired with adrenaline and a lethal weapon, the results can be irreversible. Fruitvale Station is about just such a case in which a young man is the victim of a fatal lapse in judgement.
Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) was trying to put his life back on track. He promised to be a good father and a better boyfriend. The 22-year-old was going to prove to his family that they could rely on him. The new year would be the beginning of Oscar's fresh start. But first he was going to join his friends in celebrating the end of 2008. To be safe and off the streets, they took the train to and from the city. But a security incident at Fruitvale BART Station brings a group of overzealous officers who round up Oscar and his friends. Afraid to start the new year on the wrong foot, Oscar protested their detainment – until a nervous young cop shot him.
Opening with cell phone footage of the real-life incident that claimed Grant's life puts a dark cloud over everything that follows. Every hug is bittersweet. Each kind word and gesture evokes another exclamation of "why him?" And any plan for the future, near or far, is another pull on the viewer's heartstrings. This movie amplifies the tragedy that was Grant's death – as if the cold blooded murder of an unarmed man by a police officer isn't enough to grab the audience's attention.
Bearing witness to an actual man’s final hours is a different experience than settling in for a picture you know has no basis in reality. First-time feature writer/director Ryan Coogler does an excellent job in drawing the viewers in as close as possible to Oscar. Rather than sensationalize the homicide, he focuses on who Oscar was in life including his faults and strengths. It provides an insight into his world that no amount of reading reports and accounts can accomplish, while humanizing the man thousands watched be shot in surveillance footage. Oscar’s relationships with the women in his life – his mother, girlfriend and daughter, played by Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz and Ariana Neal respectively – are also key elements of focus as he tries to make up for past mistakes.
In addition to resembling Grant, Jordan portrays his struggles and charm with sincerity. While only those who knew Grant can truly judge, the continued support of his family indicates the young actor’s depiction is an honest one. Spencer and Diaz are strong women both on and off screen, and they bear the difficult task of capturing these characters’ love and grief seamlessly.
As technology played a significant role in Grant’s death – it was captured on the cell phone cameras of many bystanders – Coogler aptly integrated it into the narrative. Oscar connects with everyone on his mobile, from calling his grandmother in a unique moment of kindness to texting his girlfriend about a possible lunch date. Each time he interacts with his phone, the text is effectively displayed on the theatre screen.
This is a powerful film that is sure to make waves as it’s released in the current climate of gun violence and on the heels of the Trayvon Martin verdict.
Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer
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