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Customer Review

67 of 76 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tragedy at Fruitvale Station, August 10, 2013
This review is from: Fruitvale Station (DVD)
An independent film written and directed with stunning effectiveness by newcomer Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station is based on a true story, and even though its story of an unarmed black male who is shot on New Year's Day, is pulled from national headlines, the film is a character study of the choices in life and how a cruel twist of fate intervenes. It lingers in the heart and mind long after the end, and as such is one of the best films of the year.

We witness video footage of police rounding up black youths at a transit train station, and while the suspects are on the ground and restrained, a gun goes off striking one of them in full view of witnesses. What follows is a flashback account of the final day of Oscar Grant's life and the events leading up to New Year's Day 2009. Amid the backdrop of the Oakland Bay area, Oscar (Michael B. Jordan in a breakout performance) is a young black man whose background is a mix of prison, drug dealing, and failed jobs amid a serious relationship with his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz), and their little daughter. He loves his family especially his mother (Octavia Spencer is rock solid) and vows to make a better life for them. It is New Year's Eve, and he helps to prepare his mother's birthday celebration. Just as he is on the brink of a new start, fate intervenes at a transit station and a deadly encounter with police.

Oscar is a man who has a conscience and a sense of responsibility. On the one hand he is portrayed as a devoted father, a passionate lover to his girlfriend, and loving son to his mom, and yet he lies to his loved ones and is in constant turmoil. It is affecting to see that he genuinely wants to leave behind his broken life and get a second chance. We root for him too, and that makes what happens at the end that much more compelling.

This is the sort of subject matter, which can be viewed as an indictment of police violence and a statement on racism that might have been ideal for HBO or a filmed documentary like The Thin Blue Line. You also expect to see a post-shooting trial, but the film focuses instead on the events and people around Oscar that lead up to the fateful moment. It is a portrait of a young, flawed life ended before it has a chance to redeem itself. We want to know a bit more about Oscar; what put him in prison, and what was his childhood like? Instead we get a fragment, one day in his life, about a father and his little daughter and the life they had and never will again. The final images of Oscar's real life daughter after the events depicted in the film are touching and sobering.

Coogler shows a good command of a scene and how to make it authentic. Moments of levity such as a group countdown to New Years are counterpointed by tense confrontations from the past. The dialogue is realistic, and you really feel you are watching a slice of real life. The pivotal scene of the police arresting Oscar and his friends is startling and upsetting; you feel like it could happen to you. The frantic reactions and emotions of the victims and witnesses as a shot rings out is heart wrenching.

Liberal use of handheld cameras lends an immediacy and realism to the events, and there is a great shot of Sophina from behind as she reacts to the tragedy. We don't need to see her face because we know from her body language exactly how she must feel.

One wonders how much of the screenplay is based on truth, but whether this is or isn't a biased view of an event by the filmmaker, it is highly emotionally affective filmmaking. In light of other recent, racially charged headlines, it cannot help but become a hot topic. This vivid, stark reenactment of an event that should never have happened is a relatively simple tale of a complex life, a kind of urban, American tragedy. It is a powerful, filmic statement that raises questions that demand answers.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 17, 2014 12:31:31 PM PST
Scope says:
Very well written review....However, you should have added a spoiler alert at the top of your review..:)

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 17, 2014 1:14:01 PM PST
C. Tsao says:
Sorry if it was surprise. I generally discuss more on real life events that are in the public domain than fictional stories . But your point is taken. Thanks for your kind words too.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 10, 2014 8:35:47 AM PST
Amen, Amen, Amen to that spoiler alert comment about the Fruitvale Station Review. The length of the comment was the hint that it might spoil something. I decided to abort after reading the first paragraph and then seeing how long it was. Npw readers know, "The butler did it."

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 10, 2014 10:04:32 AM PST
C. Tsao says:
Thank you for your feedback

Posted on Feb 23, 2014 12:32:02 AM PST
Having seen this movie, the Peripatetic Reader wanted to post his own review, but yours said it all and was well said. The Peripatetic Reader followed this story since it happened, and it seems the entire affair is wrapped in tragedy. It was a tragedy for Oscar's immediate family; his daughter and girlfriend will be denied a loving father and a boyfriend struggling to do the right thing and find his way. His mother will be forever thinking that if she did not suggest using BART her son would be alive.
It is a tragedy for the filmmakers. It is an outrage that Fruitvale Station was either nominated or won every conceivable award at festivals but did not so much as receive a nomination from the Academy Awards.
This film is too honest and too genuine for the Academy, who, let's face it, are a bunch of phoneys voting for a popularity contest.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 23, 2014 8:13:19 PM PST
C. Tsao says:
thanks for your comments
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C. Tsao
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Location: Baltimore, MD USA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 166,222