Last week, I went to Washington DC on holiday (had a great time by the way) and I decided to go and see a film that probably wouldn’t be released in the UK for a while. After hearing some good things about it I decided to go and see Fruitvale Station, then the George Zimmerman verdict happened and suddenly this film became incredibly timely and a big cultural event. Outside of the relevance though, what did I think of Fruitvale Station? It is a masterpiece.
The plot of the film concerns the final day in the life of Oscar Grant who, on January 1st 2009, was shot dead by police at Fruitvale BART Station whilst unarmed. Now I like the idea of focusing on one day since so much can happen that a really compelling film could be made up of this stuff and, since the film starts by showing footage of Oscar’s death, the events of the day become all the more harrowing as you know that he won’t live by the end. The film really works in this regard by showing a little flashback of Oscar’s past in prison and the stuff on that day focuses on Oscar’s attempts to redeem himself and all of this works because there are points in the film where you really think that Oscar has the chance to fix his life and that makes the ending all the more harrowing.
The film also nails the right tone for this type of thing. For the first 2 acts of the film, there’s this great balance between comedy and drama with some really powerful moments mixed in with moments that are laugh out loud funny. This comes to it’s peak at the end of the film in the juxtaposition of the 2 train scenes, one of which is a really funny, light-hearted affair and one that ends in Oscar’s death. Speaking of which, the recreation of Oscar’s death is incredibly handled, really tense as you wonder when the gun will be fired and really heartbreaking because of how much we care for Oscar by the end of the film and it’s one of the few times that I ended up crying watching a film. This also fits into the perfect pacing of the film as there was one point whilst watching when I though “end it here, it’s the perfect place” and that’s when the film ended.
The main strength though is in the acting. Michael B Jordan is incredible as Oscar. You see the pain he feels over how badly his life has gone but you understand why so many people like him because of how naturally charming he is. He works brilliantly with all the other cast members, especially Octavia Spencer and between this and Chronicle, Jordan has shown himself to be a big actor to watch and this will almost certainly nail him a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars. Melonie Diaz meanwhile sells how naive she is in the situation whilst getting some of the best laughs in the film. Ariana Neal is incredible as Oscar’s daughter Tatiana as well, working brilliantly off of Jordan and Diaz in some really funny and charming scenes and she really nails the emotional sensibilities of someone in this situation, especially by the end of the film. Finally there’s Octavia Spencer who is brilliant as Oscar’s mum. There’s this sense of disappointment in what Oscar has made with his life in the flashback, her earlier scenes are filled with real heart and the emotional heft of the final 10 minutes of the film comes from the pain presented by Spencer.
Overall, Fruitvale Station is a masterpiece, a brilliantly timely piece about racial profiling at the end of a brilliant character study of someone trying and failing to rebuild his life. This really cements writer/director Ryan Coogler as someone to watch and it will be a grave injustice if this isn’t featured heavily at the end of year awards.
My Rating: 5/5