It has been a while since a film as raw and relevant as Fruitvale Station has come along. Its timely release came during a weekend in which heightened feelings swept the nation, a weekend of fierce contemplation and examination, of strong rhetoric and of sadness, loss and grief. So, naturally the resonance of this film is especially palpable. But, at the end of the day Fruitvale Station is a cinematic standout and a testament to what many of us hope filmmaking can still be—storytelling that is stirring, performances that are transcendent, a pulse that reflects important aspects of our society and the power to sit in our consciousness long after leaving the theater.
Fruitvale Station, tells the true story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old from the Bay Area who was shot by a police officer on New Year’s Eve. The film, written and directed by 27-year-old newcomer Ryan Coogler, revisits the day leading up to the shooting, a day in the life of a young father, boyfriend and son, including the trials, tribulations and simple joys that made up his world.
Fans of Friday Night Lights radars’ lit up big time when Michael B. Jordan joined the cast and recognized an exceptional talent, but let there be no doubt that Fruitvale will be his breakout to the rest of the universe. Jordan is able to soften your heart, make you laugh and then leave you gutted. Melonie Diaz, who has been delighting independent film lovers for years (Raising Victor Vargas, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints) is tremendous as Oscar’s girlfriend Sophina, with whom he has a daughter, and Octavia Spencer follows up her Academy Award winning performance in The Help, with what might very well be an even better performance as Oscar’s mother Wanda.
Ryan Coogler, the young director from Oakland, partnered with producer Forrest Whitaker to make his first feature film a reality and he did so with such a concise and complete vision, his words so honest and his picture free of politics and polarizations. Maybe no one will remember that Fruitvale Station came out the same weekend that George Zimmerman was acquitted, but the impact of this film will remain. The terms “compelling,” “riveting,” and “cinematic force,” are thrown around so frequently and used so lightly (at least for every other fleetingly entertaining political thriller), but this is one of the few times where all these comments are accurate. “Force” is especially applicable.