Movie Review: ‘Fruitvale Station’

FruitvaleDirected by: Ryan Coogler

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, and Melonie Diaz

Plot: The last 24 hours of Oscar, a 22 year old black man, who was shot and killed on the first day of 2009


Endings are really important for movies. It’s the last thing we see, and the first thing we remember. A bad one can sink a movie while a good one can sometimes make us forget just how bad a movie really is. They are so powerful that we try to keep them secret. People are rabid about making sure that others don’t reveal SPOILERS, but Fruitvale Station is  completely different animal. It’s based on a true story and the ending is pretty much the premise. Even if you can skip the real news clippings or any plot description, the movie still starts with raw camera-phone footage of the actual incident (or the movie’s recreation, it was hard to tell).  There is no other way around it. We know that this is Oscar Grant’s last day.

This is a double edged sword, unfortunately. On one hand, it adds a level of stakes that wouldn’t otherwise be there. This is essentially neo-realist “day in the life of” style story. Oscar Grant (played by Chronicle’s Michael B. Jordan) is a 22 year old father of one. He has already been in and out of prison for dealing drugs, a job he still has but is trying to replace with something a little more legal. He basically goes about his day dropping off his daughter, running errands, and meeting with friends and family. Watching these innocuous scenes through a tragic veil make them all the more palpable. On the other hand, you also run the chance of adding too convenient of plot elements to hammer home that Oscar is going to die at the end of the movie. Scenes of Oscar helping a dying dog on the street or helping a grocery store customer who becomes important near the end forces too much sympathy, while the last words Oscar hears from his daughter are about how scared she is of gunshots, a groan-worthy and lazy piece of foreshadowing for a moment that we are already patiently anticipating. 

Jordan with Diaz

Jordan with Diaz

Thankfully, those few moments of weakness are held up by an impressive cast of natural performers. Among them are Melonie Diaz, as Oscar’s girlfriend, and Octavia Spencer, as Oscar’s mother. They both bring giant helpings of sympathy and empathy elevating an emotionally manipulative script. The motley crew of buddies that meet up with Oscar for the final moments are an entertaining and charming bunch of 20 somethings. Kevin Durand does his character actor thing as an angry aggressive cop who helps make that tragic moment all the more tense. The real star here though is Jordan, of course, as Oscar Grant. Jordan literally does everything right. His dialog is delivered fluidly and his moments of silence are emotionally charged. He is funny, charming, and likable even in his darkest moments.

Between this cast and the excellently directed tragic event, which is as tense as it possibly could be, Fruitvale Station is a star making movie for writer/director Ryan Coogler and lead actor Michael B. Jordan. These 2 show more than just potential but skill and are bound to keep delivering in their future film projects.

Rating: 8/10

What Else to Watch: Spike Lee’s 25th Hour is about the day before a drug dealer has to surrender himself to prison for a long stretch. It’s one of the first post-9/11 New York flicks about manhood, responsibility, family, and friendship with some stellar performances from Barry Pepper, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rosario Dawson, Brian Cox, and, most of all, Edward Norton as the protagonist drug dealer.