Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fruitvale Station, a Hard Movie

by Pa Rock
Film Fan

Chances are good that most of the people who go to see the film, Fruitvale Station, know the story and are also fully aware of how it ends.  They also realize ahead of time that watching the movie will, to a large extent, be a depressing experience.  All of that is true, but it still does not deter from the fact that Fruitvale Station is an awesome movie, a very emotional account of a real-life tragic outrage.

Oscar Julius Grant was a twenty-two year old black man who was detained and then fatally shot by security officers of the Bay Area Rapid Transit Systen (BART) in the early morning hours of January 1st, 2009.  Grant, along with his girlfriend (the mother of his daughter) and several friends, were returning from a night of New Year's celebrating when a disturbance broke out in the subway car in which they were riding.  The train was immediately stopped and Grant and several of his friends were forced to the pavement in the Fruitvale Station by members of the BART security force.  Grant was lying on his stomach with his arms handcuffed behind his back when one of the officers shot him in the back at close range.  He died later that morning in an Oakland hospital.

The story of the Fruitvale Station tragedy, and outrage, emerged basically in tact because several people on the stopped train had the good sense to capture it on their cell phones.  All of the officers involved in the incident were eventually fired, and the shooter was arrested on a murder charge.  The shooter was subsequently convicted of a manslaughter charge, sentenced to two years in prison, and released after serving only eleven months behind bars.

The movie follows Oscar Grant on his last full day of life, New Year's Eve 2008, which was also his mother's birthday.  While the story entails some of Oscar's dark side, like the fact that he had served time in prison, occasionally cheated on his girlfriend, sold weed, and had recently lost his job at a grocery store for coming to work late, it also depicts him as an outgoing young man who loved his mother, his girlfriend, and most of all his daughter, Tatiana.  He is seen on his last day helping a lady at the grocery - although he no longer worked there, playing with his daughter, dumping a large bag of marijuana in the bay, attending his mother's birthday party, and talking a San Francisco doorman to into letting his girlfriend and two other women, one of whom was a pregnant stranger, into the doorman's building so that they could use the bathroom.  A few hours later he was dead.

Fruitvale Station was written and directed by Ryan Coogler.  His work is masterful, and the end product is a gripping and highly charged account of a true crime.  The movie taps a range of feelings that puts viewers (or at least this viewer) through a tight emotional ringer.  Coogler knows his craft and is not afraid to take it to film.

Oscar Grant is played by Michael B. Jordan, a very focused and aggressive actor who is perfect in the role of the street survivor with the good heart.  Jordan is a young Denzel Washington - and every bit as talented.

Sophina, Grant's baby-mama, is played by Melonie Diaz.  Ms. Diaz, like Jordan, is perfect in her role - that of a woman seeking happiness in a hard world.

The other standout performer in this film is the amazing Octavia Spencer who is featured as Grant's mother.  She exhibits a range of emotions from tough love to full-on grief.  Ms. Spencer owns the screen through a good portion of the movie.

Fruitvale Station isn't a docudrama, even though some actual footage from the crime is incorporated into the movie.   But it is a drama that also serves to document a man's last day on earth and the events leading up to his murder.  It is a totally engrossing film that opens on the heels of the Zimmerman verdict and President Obama's comments regarding the impediments that society places in the paths of young black men.  The movie underscores the reality of "two Americas."

Fruitvale Station is a hard movie to watch, and that is as it should be.

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