Fruitvale Station Review

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Michael B. Jordan stars in director Ryan Coogler‘s first full-length feature Fruitvale Station, based on the real-life story of 22 year-old Oscar Grant as his life crosses paths with friends, family, enemies and strangers on the final night of 2008. Fruitvale Station is an emotionally-charged drama that packs one of the heaviest punches of 2013.

Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) is a loving 22 year-old man. He has a girlfriend that he’s been thinking hard about marrying and a child that he absolutely adores. He’s a family man above anything else, always willing to go the distance for his mother, grandmother or anyone else that calls upon him for help. He’s also just an all-around open and friendly person, doing whatever he can to help random strangers if it means making their day a little easier.

He’s not a perfect man though, having done time in prison for various reasons. He has a hot temper when people disrespect him or those around him and he’s also sold a little bit of drugs to make sure that his family can eat for the night.

It’s New Year’s Eve and Oscar has finally decided to turn his entire life around. He fesses up to his girl about losing his job and he gets rid of any drugs in hopes of wiping the slate clean and starting his life over. His plan for the night was to celebrate his mom’s birthday, drop off his daughter at a family member’s house to watch her for the night and then take out his girl with some friends downtown to watch fireworks and celebrate New Year’s.

The actual night unfolded a little differently, with Oscar encountering his fair share of friends, family, enemies and strangers along the way, eventually leading to a controversial confrontation with some officers of the law on a train while he and his friends were trying to get home.

Fruitvale Station is a film based on the real-life events that unfolded on that sad night for Oscar Grant. The film starts out strong, revealing real video footage from the controversial night and then expanding quickly into a personal story about Oscar and his attempt at redemption and rebirth in hopes of finally becoming the man that he always wanted to be.

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Ryan Coogler‘s film succeeds in becoming a strong film and something much larger than just a hot topic pusher, because of Coogler’s writing/directing and Michael B. Jordan‘s knock-out performance as the film’s lead Oscar. Together, the two make Fruitvale Station one of the most moving films of 2013 and something that everyone should watch and hopefully learn from.

Coogler smartly focuses on the man that is Oscar and not so much the pure controversy surrounding the tragic night. The film could have constantly poked at the broken laws set in order that only gave a police officer eleven months for straight-up murdering a handcuffed man, but Coogler wisely sticks to Oscar and tells his personal journey that led him to the encounter.

Coogler does this by opening the film with the shocking footage, but then easing back slowly into the world of Oscar, which allows us to truly connect and engage with the character and those around him. A movie like Fruitvale Station wouldn’t mean nearly as much if the director skipped over the main character in hopes of rushing to the shocking ending that will surely push you back in your seat.

See, Coogler understands that there needs to be enough focus on Oscar’s life in order for the entire film to work and not simply the ending. Anyone can film an unsettling ending about a real-life event, but not everyone can make it have such an emotional landing that sticks and sticks hard like Coogler did.

Fruitvale Station reaches such high heights because of Coogler’s caring direction that isn’t afraid to show Oscar’s good and bad sides and star Michael B. Jordan. Jordan plays Oscar with such strength and courage. Oscar isn’t depicted as a downright hero or saint and instead just a good man that’s been victim of a few life setbacks. Most of these setbacks have been brought on by himself, but that doesn’t stop Oscar from accepting his flaws and trying his hardest to get past them and to move on.

Acceptance is a big thing that Oscar deals with in the film and Jordan displays that with a performance that is subtle, yet explosive. One of the strongest parts of the film is when Jordan gets a chance to show off Oscar’s temper, right in the middle of one of the film’s calmest moments. Oscar is a gentle and loving family man, but also a hot-head that will snap if someone disrespects him or those around him. Jordan’s ability to show that switch being turned sent chills up my spine, as Oscar goes from kind and quiet to completely pissed and angered beyond belief.

Fruitvale Station is an extremely moving film that exposes some ugly truths, while also showing how one man’s kindness can change those around him in such a positive way. It’s a film that acts as a double-sided coin, both revealing a depressing and sickening real-life story that makes you upset and angry, while also being a gripping film about love, friendship, tragedy and loss.

Michael B. Jordan is simply amazing as Oscar and I wouldn’t be too shocked if he earned himself an Oscar nomination this fall, because he really does capture the audiences with his turn as the film’s troubled, yet always hopeful lead. Ryan Coogler‘s direction is near-perfect too, leaving the audiences with a well-made character drama that also touches up on such a horrifying real-life event. Nothing about Fruitvale Station feels exploitative or insincere. Everything feels straight from the heart and because of that the film exceeds in areas that most would have fumbled.

Fruitvale Station isn’t an easy film to sit through and that’s okay, because it’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be an unflinching look at the tragic real-life event of Oscar Grant and Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan have made that film. See it.

Fruitvale Station – 9/10

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