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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Fruitvale Station (Limited Release Date: 6-12-2013)

        On December 31st, 2008, Bay Area 22-year-old Oscar Grant was gunned down by a BART cop who pulled his trigger in a state of senseless panic. I make no buts about opening my review in this fashion because I am merely following suit; the film itself begins with real-life footage of the fatal incident, a harrowing clip that hangs like an ominous raincloud over the rest of the proceedings. But Fruitvale Station isn't about a tragedy so much as it is about a man, a multi-faceted individual at a crossroads in a life that is just about to end.

        Chronicling the last day of the young man's existence, Ryan Coogler's directorial debut follows Grant (Michael B. Jordan) from sun up to sun down, viewing his entire life in a fly-on-the-wall microcosm. He's got a lot on his plate: Oscar's girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) harbors resentments from fidelity issues, his mother (Octavia Spencer) has trust problems of her own, and employment troubles seem to keep throwing him back into the weed-slinging game in order to provide for his young daughter (Ariana Neal). With the help of a solitary flashback to his days of incarceration, FS plays it completely chronologically, observing Grant's many failures and graces, all leading up to its deplorable conclusion.

        Taking on the hyper-realistic angle for which Coogler strives is a tricky gambit; while his mood and tone engage the viewer immediately, even the most slightly tacky moments or scenes stick out like a sore thumb. This is particularly obvious in the case of foreshadowing, as characters continuously implore Jordan about his future, their answers always involving a tomorrow that we know will never come. The climactic scene at the BART station, however, suffers from none of these problems, absolutely scorching in its recreation, positively enraging in its effect.

        Jordan, it should be noted, is excellent in the picture, capturing the screen from start to finish, elevating the lesser-written sequences seemingly single-handedly. But the movie that he's in, for all its righteous indignation and powerful recent history, is a decidedly by-the-numbers affair. Everything it does, from its day-in-the-life trappings, to its race-relation observations, to its faux documentary style, has been done both better and worse by many other films. Fruitvale Station is by no means a bad movie, and if Jordan snags a Best Actor nomination, he will have earned it, but familiarity and occasional lapses in realism really blunt its emotional impact. Absolutely a story you need to know, but not necessarily a movie need to see.

Grade: B 

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