DIR/WRI: Ryan Coogler • PRO: Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker • ED: Claudia Castello, Michael P. Shawver • DOP: Rachel Morrison • DES: Hannah Beachler • MUS: Ludwig Göransson • CAST: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melanie Diaz
Fruitvale Station tells story of the true story of the shooting of Oscar Grant III, in Fruitvale BART station in 2009. Essentially, Fruitvale Station is a film that depicts the turbulence of a life trapped by circumstance, the ways in which this can be overcome, but also that tragic end that such a life can face, without choice.
With Fruitvale Station, we immediately get to know the steadfast determination of a Oscar Grant, who is encompassed by the consequences of mistakes he has made in his life. This is balanced and parallelled in the film with the positivity that comes from his family life; his mother, young daughter and girlfriend. What drives this positivity, is his determination to make a change in his life. And thus, a clear picture of Oscar is painted, warts and all.
Fruitvale Station is predominantly a melodramatic piece; much of the events we see in the film are centred on domestic trouble, with a lesser focus on other themes such as class issues, crime, racial prejudice. With this, we see what is worth fighting for in the face of these circumstances; family, love, hope, the chance of a better existence, of being a better person.
Michael B. Jordan’s Oscar Grant III is wonderfully likeable. We accept his flaws, which we see include infidelity, prison time, drug dealing, and more minor ones besides, and look past them when we are shown how he is seriously attempting to turn his life around. The film is divisive in this way; for example, Oscar loses his job, and to make ends meet, we are aware that drug dealing will help him bring in money to provide for his young family. And yet, in a scene that follows him unsuccessfully begging for his job back, we see him dispose of a bag of marijuana, turning away from crimes, to follow the straight and narrow track. This pattern continues, and includes a clearly metaphorical scene in which a dog gets run over. This slows the film down, but in a way that works towards the film’s effect.. By the end, Oscar’s shooting justifies the film’s unattached structure, and the way in which Oscar is presented to us through a series of both consequential and inconsequential events over the course of a typical day. They serve to define his character, and we gain an emotional attachment, aided by the presence of his mother, played by Octavia Spencer, and his young daughter, and girlfriend.
And yet, all of the scenes up until Oscar’s shooting seem somewhat pointless; neither one event nor the other seem to lead the plot onwards. Nonetheless, it all adds up with the culmination of his shooting in Fruitvale BART station, something we know from the start of the film. The fact that we get to know Oscar beforehand makes the climax all the more emotional and tragic in its own melodramatic way.
However, what is truly tragic is the realism that surrounds the story; the film is based on fact. Fruitvale Station is not a parable for the American gun culture, police brutality or its victims like Oscar Grant, it is in fact derivative of it. Where Fruitvale Station could be stronger, is in it’s social commentary. It brings a subtle critique to the table, but focuses on the person, and not necessarily the broader picture. It attempts to raise discussion and questions of justice, rather than commenting or defining.
We become privy to the film’s attempted realism from the very opening when we are shown the video of Oscar’s shooting at the train station.
What is most striking about this and the film’s structure is its use of modern technology to silently help tell the story. Not only does the film open with the real video of Oscar’s shooting, shot on a mobile phone by a fellow train passenger, but throughout the film we see Oscar’s text messages pop up on screen. We see every ounce of communication that could be seen; it is all made visual. This kind of true story and it’s background is made all the more diverse, and more real with the inclusion of instant contemporary communication, and the post-911 capture of video evidence that proves witnesses and events more boldly.
What helps this along is the use of handheld camera movements throughout the film that aids the documentary style approach to its cinematography.
Overall, the film is a well told, thoughtful piece. From the way the film is structured and from what we become witness to in Oscar Grant’s life, the film is clearly heartfelt. It’s definitely an emotional piece that targets the heart’s reactions to Oscar’s murder more than anything. Fruitvale Station paints a simple picture of a man, and then shows this picture violently shattered in an instant. By and large, the melodrama succeeds in helping to make a human out of a victim, and in giving both a voice.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Fruitvale Station is released on 6th June 2014