Fruitvale Station, 2013.
Written and Directed by Ryan Coogler.
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray, Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer.
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.
It’s practically a crime that it has taken almost a full year since its American release for new film Fruitvale Station to be shown in the UK. Ryan Coogler’s debut feature is a powerful piece of cinema that is a must-see experience.
Based on a real-life incident from 2009, Fruitvale Station begins with grainy camera-phone footage of a group of young men being aggressively man-handled by police officers at the eponymous train station. While bystanders shout and question the policemen’s heavy-handed tactics, a gun-shot rings out as the screen cuts to black. The film then jumps back 24 hours earlier and follows a day in the life of 22-year-old Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan, Chronicle), a young Californian with a girlfriend and child.
This narrative structure effectively creates a sense of tension and dread in the audience, as events unfold towards the impending tragedy at the train station and we get to know Oscar and his family. We see that he is a caring young man with a troubled past, attempting to stay on the right path. He is close to his family and is clearly a devoted father. The charm of the film is how much effort it puts into showing us the life of Oscar Grant, presenting a realistic, likeable character, and how successfully it gets us to care about Oscar and his family. What’s also impressive is how it manages to create this attachment in just 84 minutes of screen-time. When compared to the bloated and overlong running times of recent Hollywood films, this tightly-plotted, character-driven drama is a breath of fresh air.
The cast all deliver fantastic performances, which are crucial to creating the attachment we feel to the characters. Jordan is a revelation as Oscar: he is a charming screen presence, and brings a huge amount of depth to his character. After seeing this, it is no surprise why Jordan has been cast in some high profile roles. Octavia Spencer, as Oscar’s mother, does much of the emotional heavy-lifting in the film’s final act, and as usual proves to be a stunning actress, deserving of much more prominent, dramatic roles. The rest of the cast add vitality and believability to the film, but Spencer and Jordan are stand-outs.
This deft acting, plus a phenomenal script, creates a truly moving film, with an absolute gut punch of a finale that had me and several others in the film wiping away tears. It is rare for a film to be so successful at provoking this kind of reaction from an audience while avoiding cheap, maudlin tactics. Small touches throughout the film create this absorbing experience, such as Oscar helping his daughter brush her teeth. The themes of family, and the importance of religion in comforting people, are nicely explored.
Fruitvale Station is a surprising but vital piece of cinema. All the more surprising about its quality is that it’s from a first-time director. This is a “must-see” film in the truest sense of the phrase: you owe it to yourself, and to the talented people who made this film, to go see it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★