Tuesday, August 06, 2013

FILM REVIEW: Fruitvale Station

The other half and I saw Fruitvale Station at the Arclight Cinemas Pasadena when I was back in Los Angeles last week. Fruitvale Station is a movie based on the life of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old African American man who was fatally shot (in the back, while face down on the pavement!) by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle in the early hours of January 1, 2009 in front of a group of his friends while taking the train from partying in San Francisco. The shooting was caught live on multiple cell-phone videos that went viral on the Internet in the days and weeks following the killing. Mehserle was eventually charged with murder, the trial was moved from Alameda County to Los Angeles County but he was only found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years. He served 11 months in prison and was released. He was the first peace officer to be tried for murder for a line-of-duty fatal shooting in over 15 years. The Oscar Grant case was a cause celebre for several years and every New Years Day there are events to remember Oscar in Oakland and Northern California.

Fruitvale Station is the movie about the famous Oscar Grant case. It is filmmaker Ryan Coogler's very first film (although it was executive produced by Oscar winner Forest Whitaker) and stars Malcolm B. Jordan (Chronicle) and Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (The Help).

Stylistically, Fruitvale Station is somewhere between a documentary and a drama. It is most definitely not a hagiography of Oscar Grant. We seem him make foolish choices as well as bad ones. But the film makes it clear he loved his daughter Tatiana and her mother very, very much. When he is on the floor of the BART Fruitvale Station after being shot he says to the officer who shot him "Why did you do that? I have a daughter." It is an absolutely devastating moment in the film, which is replete with them. Spencer plays Oscar's mom and the two have a very close relationship. She knows that he has a tendency to wander astray and you can see it in her eyes as she watches her son carefully. The other emotionally devastating scene in the film is the one in which we see Oscar's mom get the news about her son's death and then again when she views the body of her son.

A word must be said about the performance of Michael B. Jordan in the lead role. He is absolutely mesmerizing, despite being on screen for almost every scene one never gets bored or uninterested in what he is doing, even when one is annoyed with the choices his character is making. Hopefully this performance will not be forgotten when the end of the year comes around and film accolades for the year are announced.

That being said, even though it is an emotionally draining experience Fruitvale Station is most definitely worth your time and attention to see. It is exactly the kind of film the medium is made for, to impact the audience in a meaningful and lasting way another art form may not have been able to.

Title: Fruitvale Station.
Director: Ryan Coogler.
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some violence, language throughout and some drug use.
Release Date: July 26, 2013.
Viewing Date: July 30, 2013.

Writing: A-.
Acting: A.
Visuals: B+.
Impact: A+.

Overall Grade: A/A- (3.85/4.0).

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