Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Fruitvale Station review
What "Fruitvale Station" is able to accomplish in 84 minutes is quite staggering. I watch about 200 movies per year, that's been my average for the last... ten years maybe? That's why it's so special to me when a new movie comes along and it legitimately makes me feel something. "Fruitvale Station" doesn't engage you on an intellectual level, but emotionally? It's over-powering. Not in a manipulative way, either, which has to be its greatest achievement.
The film centers on the day in the life of Oscar Grant, played by newcomer Michael B. Jordan. Here's a man just trying to get his life together. He wants to reconnect with his girlfriend, with his daughter, he's trying to get his job back. The movie demonstrates how ordinary life can be, and later shocks us with just how precious it is. One thing, one decision can turn everything upside down in an instant and you're just left there trying to figure out how to explain it. Writer/director Ryan Coogler shows us, at the beginning of the movie, that our protagonist will die by the time the movie is over. In the beginning, it's just some video. A video containing people you don't know where something unfortunate takes place. The end of the movie re-captures this event, and the end result is emotionally overwhelming. The confidence that Coogler displays, in what is just his feature debut, is really what's most impressive to me.
All I can think about are those final shots of Oscar's girlfriend, Sophina, with her daughter. How does she explain this to her? How can she possibly explain what happened to her Daddy in a way that makes any sense? Coogler wears his emotions on his sleeve here and forces us to think about these scenarios and how there are tragedies like these that occur nearly everyday.
The raves surrounding Michael B. Jordan is well-deserved. It's not that he does anything particularly eye-opening. It's just the remarkable control and confidence that he exudes in this role, giving this character such humanity that even when he screws up, you feel for him. Recognition is also well-deserved for Melonie Diaz, who plays Oscar's girlfriend, as well as Octavia Spencer who plays his mom. Octavia once again shows us why she's so deserving of that Oscar she won over a year ago and Diaz, along with Jordan, have a great, natural chemistry when on screen together.
Everything from the well-controlled hand-held camera shots, the steady yet heart-wrenching pacing, to the strong performances makes "Fruitvale Station" the best film of the year thus far. The film is an exclamation point and it will stick with you long after you've seen it. There's a wonderful simplicity in the way the film unfolds, once again demonstrating Coogler's confidence as a writer. Coogler doesn't crowd the film with visual flourishes or excess exposition. He gives us just enough to go by, and otherwise, demonstrates to us Oscar's everyman-ness. He has problems, he's not perfect, just like everyone else. He wants to be a better person, and from the looks of things, he very well could have been. Instead, he was taken from us. Just like that. And the film just makes us deal with it, which justifies its existence. Nothing here is overplayed or overdone, there's no overly dramatic music in the background. It just is. We see a life and we see it taken away.
What ultimately makes "Fruitvale Station" work is that, in its depiction of this tragic death, it's very much life-affirming. In this 24 hour timespan, "Fruitvale Station" celebrates the life of this young man just as much as it angrily depicts his death. It's a film that says it's ok to be angry, it's ok to sit there and just wonder why this had to happen. That's the very thing the filmmaker wants to know. You don't have to sympathize with Oscar, but regardless, you can recognize that his death was unwarranted, undeserved, completely unforgivable.
Once the film resets the time to midnight of New Year's Eve, 24 hours before the inevitable occurs, every minute the film goes on is a sense of utter dread. As I type this, I continue to realize what a brilliant choice it was to show us what happens to Oscar from the beginning. Every single event, every word that is spoken, every scene in this film means something. Everything from the small moments Oscar gets to spend with his child to the get-together he later has with his family. Ryan Coogler lays it all out for us to see and we can't help but watch until the bitter end.