Out of jail and determined to turn his life around, Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan), a 22-year-old Sa Francisco Bay Area resident, crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008. On the way home by train after celebrating New Year's Eve with friends, Oscar runs into a skinhead with whom he had a confrontation in jail - and trouble starts. (Based on a true story)
Review by Louise Keller:
With its gritty slice of life feel and depiction of the minutiae, Fruitvale Station almost feels like a documentary. By concentrating on a myriad of little things to create a rich characterisation of its central character, Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan) who was tragically and senselessly killed by police on New Year's Eve, 2008, Ryan Coogler's directing debut provides a rich and intimate insight. Coogler never tries to gloss over Oscar's imperfections but if his good and bad sides were placed on the scales, there is no doubt his attributes would outweigh his shortcomings. Co-produced by Forest Whitaker, while the film may not break records at the box office, its roots seem to take strong hold as we become involved in Oscar's life and those around him.
It is hard to decipher exactly what is happening in the opening sequence at 2.15am on New Year's Day, 2009, with its jumpy footage and sense of chaos when a group of men are seemingly being apprehended forcibly on the platform of Fruitvale Station. But we are given little time to wonder as we leapfrog back some hours to New Year's Eve to meet the key characters. Oscar Grant III is no Prince Charming: he is trying to convince his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) that his infidelity is behind him and he wants to commit to her and their daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal).
The revelations are in the detail of Oscar's relationships and his genuine kindness and well-meaning attitudes. Oscar's devotion to his little girl is seen first hand together with his affection to his girlfriend, his thoughtfulness towards his mother and camaraderie with friends. But it is the random incidents that stick mostly in our minds, like the scene at the fish counter when he befriends a stranger (Ahna O'Reilly) who wants to cook fried fish for her boyfriend but is at a loss. Another scene is the one in which he shows his compassion in an incident involving a friendly dog.
The film feels much longer than its 85 minute running time, in part due to the muffled dialogue which is often difficult to understand. It is ironic that the crucial moment in the train in the early hours of January 1, 2009, when Oscar and Sophina are on their way to San Francisco to watch the fireworks, is sparked by one of his earlier acts of kindness. That expression 'No good deed goes unpunished' comes to mind. But before we reach this moment, we learnt more about Oscar in flashback - from his incarceration in San Quentin.
The role of Oscar is a great showcase for Michael B. Jordan, who encapsulates the essence of his character, providing a credible and tangible breadth of complexity and emotions. Diaz is effective as Sophina and Octavia Spencer in the key role of Oscar's mother brings plenty of gut-wrenching emotion. Based on a true story, the best thing about the film and the treatment of the subject matter is that it rings true. There is no manipulation or theatrical construct that deflect from the story's core; the film ensures Oscar's legacy remains and that we feel as though we have got to know this young man whose loss is a senseless tragedy.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This is what happened on that day ... is the storytelling approach of Ryan Coogler, as he makes every effort to fully introduce us to Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) a 22 year old with a girlfriend, a young daughter and a recent prison record - but no job. Coogler paints a persistently positive portrait of the young black man, showing his love for his mother, his devotion to his girlfriend (recent unfaithfulness notwithstanding), his love for his daughter, his kindness to animals, his determination to improve himself and his life. It's almost too much.
We follow Oscar around as he tries to get his job back, does a favour for a stranger in the store where he works by getting his grandma to pass on a southern fried fish recipes and dumps his stash of weed to avoid getting busted again.
The idea is to get us to connect with and invest in Oscar; to see him as a three dimensional character who falls foul of fate - and the Bay Area police.
It's a tragic story but Coogler's approach is fraught with danger: can we stay connected through the minutiae of the quotidian events to be engaged enough? The other danger is that the heavy accents of the characters are half muffled by a sound mix heavy on bass, distorting half the dialogue. Nor does the fervent camerawork work, as it were, its fine close ups marred by a nervy style that tends to irritate.
Thank goodness, then, for the performances, all powerful and compelling, from Michael B. Jordan as Oscar to the wonderful Octavia Spencer as his mum and Melonie Diaz as his gf Sophina. Little Ariana Neal is adorable and credible as toddler Tatiana, and all the friends and family around Oscar are vibrant and real. It's a heartfelt tribute to Oscar, and a devastating indictment of the local police - and the vagaries of fate.
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FRUITVALE STATION (M)
CAST: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray, Ahna O'Reilly, Ariana Neal, Keenan Coogler, Trestin George
PRODUCER: Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker
DIRECTOR: Ryan Coogler
SCRIPT: Ryan Coogler
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rachel Morrison
EDITOR: Claudia Castello, Michael P. Shawyer
MUSIC: Ludwig Goransson
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Hannah Beachler
RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 7, 2013