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Wednesday, July 10, 2013



 Photo Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

2013, 84 minutes
Rated R for some violence, language throughout and some drug use

Review by Joshua Handler

Winner of the 2013 Sundance U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award, Fruitvale Station is a heartbreaking film that tells the true story of the last day of Oscar Grant (played by Michael B. Jordon), an man shot and killed by police at Fruitvale Station on January 1, 2009.  This film marks the feature film debut of Ryan Coogler and believe me, this is not the last you'll hear from him.  It is his direction of Fruitvale Station that makes the film what it is.

Fruitvale Station opens with a real cell phone video of Oscar Grant's shooting and the film ends shortly after.  The portion in between shows what happened on Grant's last day on Earth and is basically a set-up for the climactic scene which lasts about 20 minutes.  At first, I was unimpressed by the build-up section.  There is nothing really special about it, save for the fantastic acting (more on that later).  However, once Grant, his girlfriend, and friends are on the BART train and the announcer says that the next stop is Fruitvale Station, my stomach dropped because I knew what was about to happen. All of what had come before was there to connect the audience emotionally to the film and help us to know the characters.  The climactic scene of Fruitvale Station is what makes it the film that it is.  Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordon create this sequence with such passion and forceful power that it is hard not to be desvastated.  Coogler gradually cranks up the tension before the devastating fatal gunshot.  The fact that he shows the audience that Grant will be dead by the end of the film makes it even more anxiety-inducing watching this scene.  Knowing the ending sometimes makes films more tense because you are waiting for the horrifying conclusion to come.  Watching the shooting scene in this film was one of the most powerful and saddest scenes I've ever seen.  The entire theater, myself included, was outraged and shocked (some people reacted loudly to it).  To watch this man be shot unjustly was really emotional.  While Coogler's style isn't subtle, it does not need to be with material such as this.

Michael B. Jordon's performance as Oscar was brilliant and will surely be remembered around awards season.  He creates a three-dimensional portrait of a flawed, yet inherently good, man with charm and ease.  He is the other reason why the climax has the impact it has.  Jordan's face is very expressive and because Coogler focuses on it during the Fruitvale Station scene, it becomes even more powerful.  Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) is Oscar's mother and delivers a strong performance.  Melonie Diaz plays Oscar's girlfriend.  I hope to see her in more films, as her performance is heartbreaking, especially when she has to carry much of the film's conclusion.

Overall, Fruitvale Station is an exceptional film that stands out because of its brilliant direction and commanding lead performance.  While not as good as last year's Sundance-winner Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station packs a punch like few others.  I was wrecked by the end of this movie.  People will likely respond very well to this movie and should go see it, as this is a really important story to tell.


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