The best thing, worst thing, and main thing, about Sundance winner “Fruitvale Station” in about the time it takes to watch the trailer.
It’s true that there is some added oomph to telling a story that comes from real life, but you still have to tell it well.
Fruitvale Station is the dramatic retelling of the story of Oscar Grant, a young man from the San Francisco Bay area who was shot in the back by police on New Years Eve 2008 and what led up to that event. The movie won both the Grand Jury and audience prizes at the Sundance Film Festival this year and it’s easy to tell why. This movie is powerful. From the opening scene captured via cell phone to the closing shots of the real people involved in this story I was fully engaged emotionally and intellectually by what I was being shown.
There is so much that works about Fruitvale Station. The performances are solid down the line led by Michael B. Jordan, who you might know from HBO’s The Wire or his great performance in the surprise hit “Chronicle”. His portrayal of Oscar is beautifully and honestly rendered in such a way that you buy in to everything he does and says. Octavia Spencer’s turn as his mom is also incredibly powerful as she deals with a son trying to come back from bad choices and her role in continuing to be there for him. It’s also of note that the movie is tightly woven, clocking in at 90 minutes which feels exactly right for the story that needed to be told. But the best thing about the movie? It’s the nuance. There is memorable scene after memorable scene in this young man’s life where each character is given the chance to be complete persons. Oscar is never painted as the saint, in fact his difficulties are on display throughout, but neither is he painted as the sinner, with his love for people playing a major role in the film as well. That humanity reminds us to put away the broad brush we tend to prefer and find the detailed brush needed to see the people around us with truth. From the girlfriend, to the boss, to the cops who escalated the incident, each character is given space to breath as fully human, making both wise and poor decisions. It’s truly beautiful and is made even more powerful by some creative and often inspired editing and shot choices on the part of first time director Ryan Cooglar.
So, is there anything not to like? Well, not much. There were a couple moments the girlfriend character seemed to be over acting, but it was only slightly and not often and the score was distracting on one, maybe two occasions, but I’ll go ahead and give worst thing to the overall production value. Though it’s not really fair to tell a movie shot like this that it’s seams are showing, there are the occasional moments where you wonder if a more polished crew would have put something a tad more professional on the screen. Though truthfully that rawness adds to the overall feel and thematic play of the movie in general so I’m not even sure it’s a valid concern.
Fruitvale Station is an incredible story and an incredible film. It’s worth seeing for Michael B. Jordan’s performance alone, but the truth of the value of every life will stick with you long after the credits role. I give it a heart felt A.
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