Entertainment LIFESTYLE  >  Summer 2013 Movies: Fruitvale Station

Summer 2013 Movies: Fruitvale Station

Summer 2013 Movies: Fruitvale Station
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BY ALISON BAILES

Summer isn’t usually the time for socially driven dramas with political undercurrents, but The Weinstein Company is releasing “Fruitvale Station” as counter-programming to the onslaught of robots, monsters and sequels that are fighting over box office dominion.  And it’s well worth investing your energy in this compelling, well made independent by first time writer/director Ryan Coogler. Drawn from the real life events surrounding the shooting of Oscar Grant in San Francisco in the early hours of January 1st 2009, Coogler has crafted a well-rounded portrait of a life cut short.

The film begins with actual cell phone footage of the shooting which took place on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train platform at Fruitvale Station. Grant, who was returning from a New Year’s Eve party with his friends is seen in grainy video on the ground with some other young, black men, being held by transit police. No one is physically resisting arrest yet a shot rings out and several hours later Grant dies in hospital. This senseless killing provoked riots and protests in Oakland with the trigger-happy police officer receiving a nominal sentence (he claims he mistook his gun for his Tazer).

Coogler then flashes back to the morning of December 31st 2008 and we meet Grant (Michael B. Jordan, “The Wire”), his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) and their adorable young daughter.  Grant is by no means a model citizen. An internal flashback shows him in prison for an unspecified crime. He has dealt drugs and cheated on his girlfriend. But he is now trying to turn over a new leaf, and with the support of his fiercely loving mother, Grant wants to be a good father, a good son and a good man. And therein lies the tragedy and the beauty of this simple, nuanced film. Coogler doesn’t try to sanctify Grant. He shows him as a flawed individual. But like the next person, he doesn’t deserve to die.

Coogler achieves such realism with his attention to the quotidian details of Grant’s life that we come to know him and care about him. He also plays with our preconceptions of a jobless, African-American, un-married father. Take the scene where Grant playfully hits on a young woman in the supermarket where he used to work. At first we are skeptical about the intentions of this no-good, pot-smoking young man. But his charm and kindness come through as he helps her with her shopping, even putting her on the phone with his mother to talk about a recipe for catfish. It gives us a window into the kind of man Grant was.

And Jordan sells every aspect of Grant. He is at turns wily, shifty, loving, caring and intense. It’s a bravura performance that doesn’t shy away from being ambiguous. By the time the film inches towards the agonizing conclusion, Jordan embodies Grant to the point that we feel like we are watching a friend head towards tragedy. Octavia Spencer (Oscar winner for “The Help”) shows enormous range and emotional heft as Grant’s mother who holds his friends together as they wait at the hospital.

“Fruitvale Station” may not be a “feel-good” summer movie. It may even get flattened at the box-office by giant robots and sea monsters. But it will have a lasting impact on anybody who sees it. And surely come Awards season, critics and voters will remember Michael B. Jordan and the director who crafted such a forceful, affecting film.

 

 

 

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