Fruitvale Station

Directed By: Ryan Coogler

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

Race and equality have been at the forefront of the American psyche for the last week or so.  With George Zimmerman being acquitted after killing 17 year-old Trayvon Martin, a long overdue conversation about what it means to be a black man in America may finally be getting started.  That conversation looks to be focused on a variety of topics — the persistent devaluing of a black man's life, the unjust justice system in the United States, and especially racial profiling by both police and ordinary citizens.  As outrage over justice not being done simmers across the country and debate rages, I can't think of a better time for Ryan Coogler's Fruitvale Station, a film about the tragic police brutality that befell Oscar Grant back on New Year’s Day 2009.

Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) is an ex-convict living in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Oscar has recently lost his job from Farmer Joe's, the local grocery store and has yet to inform Sophina (Melonie Diaz), his longtime girlfriend and the mother of his daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal).  Because today is New Year's Eve and his mother Wanda's (Octavia Spencer) birthday, Oscar has no intention of spoiling the mood by telling Sophina this bad news.  Instead, he goes to Farmer Joe's to beg his former boss for his job back.  He also begins to make preparations for his mom's birthday celebration and some festivities downtown to ring in the New Year.  All in all, Oscar is working to become a better man and a functional member of society.  Little does he realize that today is the last day he will walk this earth.

Fruitvale Station is one emotionally exhausting film.  It's a movie that literally takes it all out of you.  It takes it all out of you.  Though the vast majority of the film is fairly low-key, the reenactment of the police brutality through which Oscar Grant suffered on that fateful night is the most powerful thing I've seen on the big screen in all of 2013 so far.  I realize I’m just talking about the final scenes of a movie, but that's the point of it though.  Oscar Grant was going about his day-to-day life when it was abruptly and maliciously ended by the police.  First-time director Ryan Coogler wants you to feel the surprising, gut-wrenching emotion of it all.  This climax is gripping, compelling filmmaking from Coogler for which I have the utmost respect.  On its own, it gives us a little slice of the types of injustices that occur all too often in America.  With the backdrop of recent events within our society, Fruitvale Station's climax is that much more potent.

Beyond Fruitvale Station's final scenes at the BART station, the film offers an interesting drama focused on the life story of Oscar Grant.  The first hour or so is a movie about who Grant was — his upbringing, his achievements, his shortcomings, and the experiences that molded him into the 22 year-old he was on that tragic night.  This portion of the movie is engaging drama that Coogler uses to humanize Grant and make him relatable for a broader audience.  During this early portion of the film, Coogler shows us an ex-convict who's trying to do better, a father who loves his daughter, a man who loves his girlfriend, and a black man who understands the unfair society in which he lives.  This is powerful stuff that we don't get in everyday movies, and I have to commend Coogler for bringing this to the big screen.

The acting in Fruitvale Station is superb.  In particular, there are two standouts, Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer.  For his part as Oscar Grant, Jordan steps into a different class of acting.  Giving us a loving father, an embittered ex-convict, and ultimately a scared young man facing his untimely death, Jordan shows us the various faces of Oscar Grant that Coogler wants to highlight.  It's a really moving performance.  For her part as Grant's mother Wanda, Spencer gives a powerful performance as well.  As the elder cast member in Fruitvale Station, Spencer serves as the film's emotional anchor and also as the voice of reason during the film's darkest moments.

There are very few movies that leave me floored.  Fruitvale Station is one of them.  It's an emotionally draining experience but a necessary one that highlights an eerie example of an injustice in America that echoes the recent events in Florida.  Every man and woman in this nation needs to see this movie.  It really couldn't have had more perfect timing.  Reflecting on what happened to Oscar Grant and the way the justice system failed him might help you start some of the soul-searching about which President Obama recently spoke.  Fruitvale Station gets a sober rating.