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Fruitvale Station

2013 | 85 min | R | 1.85:1

Fruitvale Station


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Theatrical release date

 12 July, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from Fruitvale Station Blu-ray

Fruitvale Station Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, July 26, 2013

“Fruitvale Station” isn’t interested in presenting cold, hard facts. Although it opens with actual video footage of Oscar Grant being shot by a BART officer, the rest of the movie is devoted to a broad representation of the young man’s life, mixing recreation with outright fiction. For some, the overwhelming sympathy shown to Grant will provide an exhaustively emotional experience, helping to mourn a senseless death. However, “Fruitvale Station” doesn’t do itself any favors by ignoring the mysterious workings of the incident, and while the picture is penetratingly performed, it leaves numerous questions behind in regards to the killing and Grant’s distressed demeanor, rendering the feature too calculated for comfort.

On New Year’s Day, 2009, Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) was shot and killed by a nervous BART officer while being deterred for a fight incident at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland, California. On the day of his death, Oscar was in the process of putting his life back together, recently released from a drug-related prison stint. Trying to cover for the grocery store job he lost due to attendance issues, the young African-American male felt the strain of responsibility, determined to provide for girlfriend Sophina (a genuine Melonie Diaz) and his young daughter. Spending the afternoon acquiring food for his mother’s (commanding work from Octavia Spenser) birthday celebration and pondering his future as a drug dealer, Oscar found himself at a crossroads in life, making a choice to own his actions despite a history of negative behavior. Looking to celebrate the holiday with his love and friends, Oscar’s innocent trip into San Francisco to watch fireworks turned out to be his last, with his death stunning his family, soon fueling a media firestorm.

“Fruitvale Station” has enthusiasm and an interest in dissecting the final day of Oscar Grant, eager to paint a portrait of a man cut down at the very moment he gained clarity, making his death all the more tragic. Writer/director Ryan Coogler employs a “based on a true story” approach to cook up some fiction, but the overall purpose of the work is to step inside Oscar’s skin and feel the pressures of a low-income life and the weight of personal and professional reliability. As previously mentioned, the feature opens with cell phone footage of the shooting, establishing a chilling reality that’s gradually disregarded in the quest to create a dimensional cinematic character out of Oscar, with intimate hopes and dreams embellished to generate drama, while a few embellishments, including Oscar’s interaction with a stray dog struck down by a speeding car, are here solely for symbolic purposes, created to encourage sympathies, not reflect any type of authenticity.

Oscar Grant was a complex human being, and I wish “Fruitvale Station” was more respectful of his faults, with only vague accusations of unfaithfulness and a flashback to an argumentative prison visit with his mother permitted entry to this portrayal. These are the textures that should define Coogler’s work, taking an honest look at the subject’s deficiencies, traits that shaped Oscar. Instead, the picture seeks to underline his kindness, observing Oscar help a young woman with her fish fry plans at a supermarket, talk a store owner into allowing his lady friends to use a bathroom after hours, and play affectionately with his daughter. “Fruitvale Station” is too modest a movie to be considered a whitewash job, but there’s certainly not enough grit presented to make sense out of this final day. Coogler’s soft-pedaled approach to the characterization raises more questions than it answers, and while Jordan hits all the expected extremes of teeth-clenching emotion, the Oscar presented here feels more constructed than clarified.

I wish “Fruitvale Station” carried a different title, since there’s nothing in the picture that even remotely deconstructs the shooting incident. In fact, Coogler devotes more detail to a stalled BART train dance party with New Year’s Eve revelers than the shooting itself, with the officers in question (played by Kevin Durand and Chad Michael Murray) never even identified by name. The film only delivers a fuzzy portrait of the event, spotlighting growling cops and a charged atmosphere of fighting and cell phone recording. We learn nothing about the Fruitvale Station incident beyond the basics, and even those details are obscure at best, perhaps intentionally ignored in an effort to keep Coogler’s workload light enough to support the confines of a low-budget endeavor. Why did the cop shoot Oscar in the back? Why did Oscar continue antagonizing police after repeated warnings to settle down? Why are law enforcement officials treated as nothing more than cardboard cutouts when they play a pivotal part in the narrative? There are questions galore at the end of “Fruitvale Station,” with nothing answered to satisfaction. Or at all.

If Coogler truly wanted to celebrate the life of Oscar Grant, a strict deployment of the facts would’ve resulted in a more rewarding, layered picture, hitting the exact note of sorrow he’s intending to invoke. “Fruitvale Station” intends to investigate a troubled soul at the very moment of its awakening, but rarely does it feel authentic, and worse, it comes up frustratingly incomplete.

Starring: Kevin Durand, Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Chad Michael Murray, Ahna O'Reilly
Director: Ryan Coogler

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Fruitvale Station (2013) 48 Mar 25, 2014

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