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Michael B. Jordan masterful in 'Fruitvale Station',
This review is from: Fruitvale Station [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
For those that don't remember or might not be aware of the real life incident that took place on January 1, 2009 - here's a quick refresher (no, this will not spoil the movie viewing experience). Oscar Grant III was traveling aboard the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) with a group of his friends (returning from San Francisco) after a night of festivities for New Year's Eve. A fight broke out on the train, involving Grant, leading to a police response at the Fruitvale BART Station platform in Oakland. Upon their arrival, the responding officers detained Grant and a group of his friends. In an attempt to restrain Grant, one of the officers fired his gun into Grant's back while he was face down on the ground - allegedly/mistakenly grabbing his gun instead of a Taser. The incident was recorded via cell phone by several onlookers aboard the train. This incident also led to a handful of protests, some of which turned to violence. Eventually, the incident led to a high profile criminal trial for the officer that fired the shot. In the days leading up to the incident, Grant was in the midst of making some important life changing decisions, which are the subject of the independent film, Fruitvale Station.
Making his directorial debut, Fruitvale Station is directed by Ryan Coogler and stars Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant. The film, based on a true story, begins as Oscar discusses his cheating indiscretion with his girlfriend and mother of his daughter, Sophina (Melonie Diaz). Recently, Oscar has fallen on hard times, losing his job and is unsure of how he'll make money to help support his family, outside of selling drugs - for which he had already been to prison. It also happens to be Oscar's mother's birthday and he's making preparations to celebrate with his family for dinner. After the gathering, Oscar, Sophina, and their friends, head to San Francisco to celebrate the New Year. However, their return trip leads to a devastating and highly controversial incident. Octavia Spencer, Kevin Durand, and Chad Michael Murray also star in supporting roles.
This film rests solely on the shoulders of Michael B. Jordan, and succeeds because of it. If you're unfamiliar with his work, you're most likely not alone. Jordan, a rising star in Hollywood, has previously had notable roles as Vince Howard in the final two seasons of NBC's Friday Night Lights and as Reggie Montgomery for two years on the daytime soap opera, All My Children. His transition from television to film has clearly been smooth as he continues to impress with his knack for dramatic roles - and this role as the late Oscar Grant is no exception. It's difficult to know how close the film's character is in comparison to the real life person, but Jordan's character is portrayed as conflicted and desperate to turn his life around. He realizes he's made a great many mistakes in his life and wants to be a responsible provider for his family. There are many admirable qualities about the type of man Oscar Grant is trying to be, and Jordan undoubtedly has the acting tools necessary to bring the intensity and emotion to this character's tragic final moments. It truly is a remarkable piece of acting by this young, talent actor.
Several themes can be taken from the outcome of this film, most notably that people do have the power to change if their desire to do so is strong enough. The importance of family and relationships are also focused upon heavily over the course of this film, as Jordan's character is portrayed as a loving father, flawed (yet devoted) boyfriend, a beloved friend, and caring son. Along with the power of change and the importance of family, other notable themes, including responsibility and loyalty, both contribute to the heavy dose of underlying thematic elements within this film. Additionally, it's quite possible the greatest message of them all in this film is that life is a gift and you never know when tragedy will take it away. Life is to be cherished, and never taken for granted.
First time director, Ryan Coogler, has an impressive debut on his hands, no doubt setting the bar rather high for his next endeavor. The plot and characters mesh masterfully as the film operates with a smooth, continuous flow. Coogler even incorporates a clever text message pop-up, which plays an integral part of the story (almost like a comic book balloon caption). The pop-up idea truly is an act of sheer brilliance, which helps keeps the audience well informed with the information that comes and goes from Grant's cell phone over the course of his final day and night. While Coogler clearly did his homework for the character, there is one scene in the film that has been admittedly incorporated as complete fiction - that being a scene where Grant befriends a dog while at a gas station. Allegedly, the scene was used to simply fill a gap in the day for which Grant's activity were unaccounted.
Overall, director Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordan collaborate for one of the best acted and most moving films of 2013. It's completely understandable why this film received such a high amount of attention and praise at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. However, it's unfortunate that it had to be over such a tragic event. Still, the film pays homage to the loving memory of Oscar Grant. Fruitvale Station portrays a sad, heartbreaking true story that ended with very little consequence. While it's impossible to determine whether or not the police officer really did make a mistake by reaching for his gun instead of a Taser, a jury deemed that the officer made a mistake. Sadly, it was an incident that cost a young man his life. He was taken at such a young age, and unfortunately, no one will ever know what type of man Oscar Grant would have become had he not been tragically killed.