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Film Review: Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station

Photo 1Written and directed by Ryan Coogler
Director of photography by Rachel Morrison
Edited by Michael P. Shawver and Claudia S. Castello
Music by Ludwig Goransson
Production design by Hannah Beachler
Costumes by Aggie Guerard Rodgers
Produced by Nina Yang Bongiovi and Forest Whitaker
Distribution by the Weinstein Company
Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes.
Principle Cast: Michael B. Jordan (Oscar Grant), Melonie Diaz (Sophina), Octavia Spencer (Wanda), Kevin Durand (Officer Caruso), Chad Michael Murray (Officer Ingram), Ahna O’Reilly (Katie) and Ariana Neal (Tatiana).

Tweetable Review:  A deeply charged & authentic storytelling that will cut an unmanipulated deep & lasting impression


Freshly after the bell had toll Midnight on the eve of New Years Day 2009,  Oscar Grant was shot at the Fruitvale BART station due to an altercation that never really happened. I don’t say it didn’t happen as it was fictitious, but meaning, the incident which involved Oscar and several of his friends, was merely a shouting match that beat cops mistook for a dangerous situation, and which quickly escalated to a breaking point. In the midst of a shouting match where it was anyone’s game and where a  trainload full of passengers looked on, an officer’s hand gun was mistaken for a taser, drawn and fired. Later it was reported that the officer who pulled the trigger was eventually “relieved” from the Bay Area Police Force and jailed but that doesn’t seem to matter in hindsight when people discover that Grant was killed by the fatal blow, leaving his girlfriend and four-year-old daughter behind; Grant was only 22 years old.

Years have passed and numerous debates, discussions over Police brutality and finger pointing have sparked heated walks and demonstrations both Nationwide, as well as centrally (focused), around the Bay Area. Now, four years after the infamous event writer-director Ryan Coogler has thrown his hat into the ring with his first feature film entitled Fruitvale Station, which is getting a Nationwide release this month after the film had its premiere this past January during the Sundance Film Fest. The film not only inked distribution but also took home both the Grand Jury and Audience Award for Drame prizes, which generated enough heated discussion to melt the snowy landscapes of Park City, UT.

As a whole, Fruitvale Station is an incredibly affecting piece of film that shows great self-assurance in the young Coogler’s storytelling and proof that the director can work magic with the right talent.  In the principle role of Oscar Grant, Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle) has taken a role that is a typical run-of-the-mill “obstacle overcomer” and brought life and sympathy to  what many would play to stereotype. Jordan plays Grant with a bruised and wounded truth but highlighted with spots of caring, warmth and tenderness. Octavia Spencer’s Mother role is intuitive, upstanding and has perfect tough love for her son, while Melonie Diaz brings a sense of naturalism to her scenes we have seen previously from the actress.

Cinematically audiences aren’t going to get a ton in the way of production quality outside of a solid first feature, but the proof on screen does show there is promise of future development with more funding and bigger stories. In one particularly smart move however, the 27 year-old & USC Film grad, Coogler has used pre-taped footage to help people connect and set the scene of the film but then re-enforces an inside camera technique to create an angle within the story which audiences don’t see from the original camera footage. The whole ordeal mounts a powder keg of emotional response involving visual discourses set for explosion that changes Fruitvale from a bio-pic to a gut punch.

Ultimately, If Fruitvale were any other Hollywood financed and written story, one would throw the whole film out as a forced “here-we-go-again” with another wrong place-at-the-wrong time story, but with Coogler, we are thrust immediately into onlookers’ shoes, and then shown how we arrived. As such, one can’t help but ponder the outcomes of the recent George Zimmerman trial when looking at this film simply because of many of the parallels. However, unlike the recent outraged fallouts from that verdict, Fruitvale Station somehow hits harder, faster and more poignant because because Coogler has made it more personal.

-Matt Miles, 24/7 Contributor
Producer of Fresh Roasted Films

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