Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Ariana Neal, Trestin George
Written by: Ryan Coogler
Running Time: 85 mins
Release date: 6th June 2014
A sad fact about modern life is the countless stories on the news about some youngster being caught up in an event that has left them dead. We have almost become immune to these tales, so frequent are they. Newcomer Ryan Coogler has taken a story straight from the pages of the news and presented a simplistic account of a young man caught up in one such event.
Oscar Grant is a man determined to turn his life around. Having served time in prison, he now has a young daughter and a girlfriend who he is trying to support, even though he has lost his one steady income and so is having to rely on drug dealing. Enough is enough for Oscar and he wants to earn an honest wage. On the eve of New Year’s 2008, Oscar and his girlfriend, Sophina are about to head to the city to enjoy the celebrations. Travelling by train, the carriages are in a party mood but the return journey becomes a nightmare when face-to-face with the transit police.
Coogler’s film is a straight forward account of Oscar’s day. We learn everything there is about the young man, a doting father who loves his daughter and wants to protect her from the world he frequents. His mother is celebrating her birthday and so Oscar is trying to get things prepared for her. We see him helping out a complete stranger in the store he use to work in with a recipe for fried fish and his compassion to a dog, left dying in the road after being hit by a car.
For all tense and purpose, Oscar is not a perfect human being. Still troubled by his time in prison, he turns to drug selling to help his finances yet he knows this is wrong. It is like watching a man with an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. He knows right from wrong but he struggles to stay on the right side.
As we follow this young man around, Coogler doesn’t try to present the film with any real sense of style or misplaced cinematography tricks. Instead, with a hand-held camera, it just captures events as if they were happening in real time, as if we were riding on Oscar already weighty shoulders and so for the first hour, that’s all we see, the day in the life of…
It’s a nicely slow burning yet pacy piece that slowly lights the fuse for the shocking and emotional final act, which manages to mix both heart-stopping suspense with a real lump-in-the-throat ending. We already know what happens right at the beginning of the film as the footage on Fruitvale Station, recorded by a mobile phone, reactions from the onlookers intact, is shown and yet this might dampen the emotions. It doesn’t. In fact, you become so caught up in Oscar’s world that it becomes even more heart-breaking.
What also helps is a career-making performance from Michael B. Jordan as Oscar. He makes us really feel for Oscar’s plight and his longing to make things right for his family and himself. It’s a pitch perfect performance and he carries the movie brilliantly. The rest of the cast are equally good, with The Help’s Oscar winner Octavia Spence particularly good as Oscar’s mother.
Once again, Fruitvale Station is another film that follows that rule of keeping things simple and it will become ever more effective. This is a powerful piece of cinema that will have you questioning the power of authority and have you even more disgusted by the outcome. Well worth tracking it down now before it disappears under the weight of other, less worthy films.