Sunday, August 04, 2013

Fruitvale Station

Written and directed by Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station is the true story about the last day of a young man’s life. The film is based on a real-life incident in which this young man is killed by police officers in a transit station in Oakland as it was seen by many. Starring Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray, Ahna O’Reilly, and Octavia Spencer. Fruitvale Station is a mesmerizing yet chilling film from Ryan Coogler.

At 2:15 AM on New Year’s Day 2009 at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland, California, a 22-year old man named Oscar Grant III was shot by a BART police officer while resisting arrest over a scuffle in the train. The incident was captured by video cameras and cell phones that night as Grant would later die from his wounds hours later. The film explores the final day of Grant’s life as it plays into this young man’s life as he’s a father to a little girl as he is hoping to start new in the New Year with his girlfriend as he gives up dealing marijuana. While Grant is also a flawed man who also served some time in prison, he is someone who wants to do right for his girlfriend, his daughter, and his mother as he got food and stuff for his mother’s birthday while partying with friends to celebrate the New Year until it all went tragically wrong.

Ryan Coogler’s screenplay is quite straightforward in terms of its approach to storytelling though the story does allow one flashback scene in which Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) reflects on his previous jail time as he meets his mother (Octavia Spencer) which plays to Oscar’s resolve to give up drug dealing despite the troubled situation he’s in as he lost his job and owes rent money. Still, Oscar is dedicated to his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and their daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal) as he is willing to do right despite the fact that he’s sort of a screw-up. Still, Oscar is a guy who is very kind and generous while there’s a brief moment where he meets a man who went through similar struggles that Oscar is going through yet gives him advice as well as an opportunity to help Oscar. These little moments would showcase the kind of man Oscar is and why his death is so tragic.

Coogler’s direction is very engaging for the way he explores the last day of Grant’s life as he goes for something that is straightforward but also be very direct into the events that was happening in Grant’s final day. A lot of the direction is very intimate but also broad as Coogler goes for a lot of hand-held cameras without being very shaky while creating some dazzling compositions to play up the sense of beauty in Grant’s world. The scene of Grant’s shooting is really one of the most intense moments of the film that showcases what probably happened before the police came in which leads to a very intense moment where Grant and his friends are confronted by the police and the incident that would change everything. The film opens with the actual footage of what happened to Grant while there are some very haunting moments that is told with great simplicity in the aftermath of the shooting. Overall, Coogler creates a very stark but powerful film about a man’s life being taken away by injustice.

Cinematographer Rachel Morrison does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography from the straightforward look of the daytime scenes to the more low-key look for some of the exterior scenes at night with the exception of the scene at the train station. Editors Claudia Castello and Michael P. Shawver do amazing work with the editing in creating a few jump-cuts for some scenes as well as some methodical cutting to play up the suspense in relation to the shooting. Production designer Hannah Beachler and set decorator Kris Boxell do nice work with some of the set pieces such as the homes the characters live in as well as a few of the places the characters go to.

Costume designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers does terrific work with the costumes as it‘s mostly casual for many of the characters. Visual effects supervisor Catherine Tate does superb work with the film‘s minimal effects that involve the popping up of cell phone screens to showcase certain messages and such that would play a key part in the story. Sound designer Bob Edwards does fantastic work with the sound to convey the atmosphere of some of the intimate moments as well as the scenes in the train and the train station. The film’s music by Ludwig Goransson is incredible for its haunting yet evocative score filled with low-key ambient pieces with its keyboards and guitars to convey the drama while music supervisors Jonathan Leahy, Manish Raval, and Tom Wolfe create a soundtrack that is mostly filled with hip-hop to play into the world that Grant and his friends live in.

The casting by Nina Henninger is phenomenal for the ensemble that is created as it features appearances from Chad Michael Murray and Kevin Durand as the two BRAT officers who arrest Grant on that horrible night along with Ahna O’Reilly as young woman Oscar meets at the supermarket as she later sees him at the train on that horrible night. Other notable small roles include Marjorie Shears as Oscar’s grandmother and Ariana Neal as Oscar and Sophina’s daughter Tatiana. Melonie Diaz is wonderful as Oscar’s girlfriend Sophina as a woman dealing with his flaws as she is also aware that he is trying to do right as she brings a very chilling restraint late in the film that includes the film’s ending.

Octavia Spencer is amazing as Oscar’s mother Wanda who is a kind soul but also very stern at times while Spencer would convey something very powerful very late in the film that plays to the tragedy. Finally, there’s Michael B. Jordan in a remarkable performance as Oscar Grant III as Jordan brings an intensity into his performance as a young man trying to start anew while adding a sensitivity to his role as someone who is kind and generous while being a good father to his daughter as it’s a real breakthrough for the young actor.

Fruitvale Station is a brooding yet outstanding film from Ryan Coogler that features great performances from Michael B. Jordon, Melonie Diaz, and Octavia Spencer. It’s a film that explores a day in the life of a young man before his tragic death and the injustice it would carry without over-dramatizing the true story nor under-playing it. It’s also a film that showcases a world where things don’t go the way it seems in terms of what happened as well as its troubling aftermath that showcases an injustice over what happened. In the end, Fruitvale Station is a magnificent film from Ryan Coogler.

Ryan Coogler Films: Creed (2015 film) - Black Panther (2018 film) - Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

© thevoid99 2013

6 comments: said...

Not playing anywhere near me ;-( However, with all the positive reviews I have been reading I am really looking forward to checking it out.

thevoid99 said...

It's playing at a few multiplexes though I do suggest going to the nearest art house theater that is available. It's worth seeing. If you can't do that. There's no shame for waiting for the film to come out on DVD or on demand.

Alex Withrow said...

Great review. This film knocked me on my ass. Fucking floored me. I want to give it a rewatch before drafting my review. But damn... easily one of my favorite of the year.

thevoid99 said...

@Alex Withrow-Right now, this is my 3rd favorite film this year and man... there was silence during the end when myself and the small audience walked out of the theater just stunned. I was sad but also angry. This film has to get some Oscar recognition. Seriously.

Anonymous said...

Great review. This is currently my #1 (granted, I've only seen like 20 films) and I truly love this film. Such a powerful statement piece that feels like so much more.

thevoid99 said...

@Fisti-It's currently in my top 5 at the moment. Definitely deserves some Oscar consideration.