MOVIE REVIEW: Fruitvale Station

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Film: Fruitvale Station
Starring: Michael B. Jordan
Directed by: Ryan Coogler

If there is one indie film poised to make a big splash when awards season picks up, it’s Sundance favorite Fruitvale Station. Based on the true story of a young black man shot by a police officer on New Year’s Eve, the film captures a type of situation our society finds itself dealing with all too often, and in doing so makes itself one of the most important films of 2013.

Michael B. Jordan stars as Oscar Grant, which is the actual name of the person whose life story inspired the film. He is a 22-year-old two time convicted felon from Oakland California, and when the film opens midnight has just passed on the morning of December 31, 2008. Oscar lives with his girlfriend and the daughter they share and has had to rely on drug sales to keep their small family afloat. He wants to do better, and in the opening moments of the film emphasizes this desire to his girlfriend, but unfortunately for Oscar Grant life has other plans.

As the story digs in, viewers follow Oscar’s journey on what will eventually become the last day of his life. They see him struggle to find a real job, deal with memories of his life in prison, and generally do whatever he can to take a positive step forward in life. He knows he’s not in the best situation, but he holds his head high, does right by his family, and from what we’re shown seems like an all-round upstanding member of society. He wants better and is no longer willing to break the law to do so.

Once night falls, however, the day of progress is derailed when an unexpected twist in the evening’s events leads down a terrible path. Oscar finds himself in a situation he never expected, and after an altercation with another individual he finds himself being questioned alongside his friends on the platform of Fruitvale Station. He knows he may be wrong for fighting, but is aware that no actual laws were broke. He believes freedom will soon come, but unfortunately that is not the case.

Jordan shines as Oscar Grant, and his performance will likely earn a number of nomination (and possibly awards) when the end of the year rolls around. That said, his success is owed in part to the fantastic support offered by Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, and Kevin Durand. Each plays only a minor role in comparison to Jordan, but the way his life impacts theirs, not to mention their response to that impact, is part of what makes this movie so great. If a film is only as strong as its weakest link, Fruitvale Station is tougher than steel.

There have been a number of films over the years that attempted to capture the discrimination shown by members of the police force when dealing with individuals from ethnic background different than theirs, but it has been decades since a film met that goal with a passion quite like that shown throughout Fruitvale Station. Though you know from the opening minutes what fate lies ahead for young Oscar Grant, you cannot help becoming completely engaged in his world. You connect with his struggle, cheering for him as he takes steps to better the life of his family, and when things take a turn for the worse your heart crumples like discarded paper faster than you would ever believe. It doesn’t matter that you know the truth going in because seeing it played out on the big screen is an emotional event al its own that does not have a close second. People in my screening wept, myself and my date included, while others cursed at the characters on screen for their unlawful actions. Both reactions are exactly what filmmakers were going for, and with that in mind I have to say they’ve succeeded with flying colors.

Score: A

Review written by: James Shotwell (Follow him on Twitter)

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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