Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Let's Review Something: Fruitvale Station

Last month, Ruth over at Flixchatter asked a question; what movie surprises you most this year?  I linked her question for the rest of you because I think it’s a great one to ask at any stage of the year (because surprises happen all the time) and I answered it with ‘Before Midnight’, but I really wish she had waited and asked that question, like, tomorrow because I just walked out of the theater (yes, I went to the movies at 10:30AM and, yes, I was the only person in the theater) and my eyes are still red and my heart is still broken and my mind is still in complete shock over how tremendous a film ‘Fruitvale Station’ is.

Seriously people; this film is a masterpiece.

Now, I know that this movie has its critics.  They have been sounding off loud and clear against the supporters, and I welcome your criticisms here as well.  I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t read into much of the negative talk because I like to walk into a film with an open mind.  I find that if you walk in expecting there to be flaws, you’re going to find those flaws even if you wouldn’t have otherwise.  So, now that I have seen the film and am about to give it a glowing review, I welcome one and all to tell me why I’m wrong because I feel as though I can actually have a valid discussion with you based on the film itself and not mere speculation.

That means you Vincent, since I know that you are not favorable on this film.

So, walking into ‘Fruitvale Station’ this morning, I was anticipating a film that was constructed to move me.  I expected it to paint Oscar Grant as a martyr, a saint and a moral lesson.  I expected an abundance of clichés and stereotypes to litter the movie and I expected the political assessment of the whole unfortunate incident to be plastered across every frame.  That isn’t because I read into complaints (I’m not even sure if that is a complaint, and quite frankly I don’t see how it could be one unless you want to get ultra-picky and complain about the 'obviousness' regarding the conversation he has with his daughter) but because this is a biopic about a controversial subject that is recent and has similarities with yet another recent, tragic event. 

I assumed wrong.

What ‘Fruitvale Station’ is, is a tightly woven look at the day in the life of a young, troubled man who is shuffling responsibilities, trying to straighten out his life and maintain his identity at the same time while weighing out the consequences of growing up in a place where his options are limited.  Already been locked up once, Oscar doesn’t want to go back, but his lifestyle and carefree attitude have cost him his job (fired for being late too often) and has placed his relationship with the mother of his daughter on the rocks.  When the film opens Oscar is having a minor argument with his girlfriend, Sophina, about a tryst he had with another woman.  What spoke to me was the marvelous balance that both actor Michael B. Jordan and writer/director Ryan Coogler gave to Oscar.  They showed us his flaws.  He doesn’t take life seriously, he likes his narcotics, he allows temptation to get the best of him, he has a temper; and yet they also layer him with a natural charisma and charm that allow us to see his heart.  Oscar Grant was not a ‘bad guy’, but he wasn’t perfect either.

As the film progresses we see Oscar plan for his mother’s birthday party, contemplate his future and reflect on his past.  We see him try and rekindle things with Sophina and we get to see the natural glow of their relationship.  Both Jordan and Melonie Diaz bring such chemistry to their performances, helping draw us into their lives.

But yes, the whole film seems to boil down to the inevitable.  I was worried that that was going to be a problem for me with this film.  When you know how something is going to end you tend to wait for the entirety of the film to see how that is going to play out.  You tend to want to rush the rest of the movie because you already know what everything is leading up to.  I never felt that here.  The film is a brisk 85 minutes, and things are so tightly woven that you never had a chance to want it to speed up.  We are given just enough to color in this young man’s life and where he is at that given moment, right before everything is torn away from him.  The final twenty minutes or so are neckbreak chaos and tension, but perfectly honed to sustain that tension and create a real sense of panic.  It doesn’t hurt that the young actors are so natural and believable in their respective roles.  The brutality of the situation is kept honest, and the awareness of how far things had gone takes shape in unexpected places.  I was really impressed with the way that Coogler handled the police officers, mainly because the depiction of their actions was so abrasive and yet when shots are fired you can read the immediate retraction in their eyes.  You can tell that they understood the gravity of their actions and so this is not just a stereotypical depiction of ‘the villain’.

The bookends are tear jerkers, for sure.  Having actual footage of the murder and then this year’s vigil outside Fruitvale Station (along with video of Grant’s young daughter) was enough to reduce me to a puddle, but it was not mere surface tears, for the heart of this film speaks loudly.
I wish it were you...

Like I said, this is a masterpiece and I give it a solid A+ and it may even be my favorite film of the year so far.  I’ve been heavily predicting this for Oscars, and I’m firm in my stance that this is getting in all the major categories, with Picture, Director, Screenplay, Lead Actor and Supporting Actress pretty much easy gets at this point.  I honestly wish that Melonie Diaz were the one getting all the Supporting Actress buzz, because she was sensational as Sophina.  Her final frame, with her daughter, was just hearbreaking.  She anchored so much of the film, and helped make Oscar himself feel like a real person to us through her chemistry with Jordan.  I honestly found Octavia Spencer to be the weakest link in the cast.  I find it very hard to take her seriously (she acts way too much with her eyes, which can be distracting) and she seems to play every role the same.  That being said, she was ridiculously effective in her final scene, and it is a prime Oscar clip.  She’s getting that nomination, of that I’m pretty certain.


  1. Excellent review! I've been trying to get a review up of this since last week, but I haven't been able to put a few words together on it. I often find films like this overrated, but I was floored with how great it was. Instead of being sugar-coated, it feels honest, and it's one of the most powerful films I've ever seen in a theater.

    As far as awards consideration, I agree with your top 5, and I think it has a chance at a Best Film Editing nod.

    1. I totally get what you're saying. I really thought this was going to be one giant force fed cliche, but it was SO GOOD!

  2. Great review of Fruitvale! I went into this movie full educated on the history of Oscar Grant and the shooting in 2009. Like you said, I knew what to expect and anticipated waiting for that final scene, but every aspect in-between was captivating. And when that final scene came, I literally had a minor anxiety attack, and I KNEW what was going to happen! Regardless of what complaints critics have, they should at least acknowledge the direction Coogler took with the story.

    1. Yes, Coogler did an amazing job streamlining this and making it work so well. And I'm totally with you on the final scene. I was in such panic, to the point where during the hospital scenes I was actually hoping he was going to make it. Like, it brought me to this intense state of emotional chaos that I was hoping Coogler rewrote history.

      It crushed me.