Saturday, July 27

REVIEW: Fruitvale Station

Directed by Ryan Coogler
2013 Drama
1 hour 30 minutes
From The Weinstein Company

Michael B. Jordan
Melonie Diaz
Octavia Spencer
Ariana Neal

Talk about timely.  A young black man is killed on the mean streets.  There was an uproar about the incident that stained a city in 2008.  There have been legions of followers into the life of the Bay Area's Oscar Grant ever since and now a touching and heart-breaking film has been made.  It is every bit worth your time.

I feel a little uneasy mentioning that the focus of the true story has been killed but I gotta figure you know that anyway or you soon would once the film starts with a grainy look at the killing that occurred at the Oakland, CA Bart Station.  And if you possibly did not know that the ending was leading to a killing, one might wonder why we're spending an hour and a half with a 22-year old doing rather ordinary things.

But you see, this is the last day of Oscar's life.  He's a good guy.  He has some shortcomings but don't we all?  It's New Year's Eve, his mama's birthday, and he loves his mama.  It's important to make sure she has a good day and a get-together is planned at dinnertime.  He lives with his understanding Latina girlfriend and their beautiful daughter.  Oscar clearly loves them both and they feel the same, although the girlfriend is working through being miffed at Oscar for cheating on her. 

We learn he's recently been fired from his job at a market and money is tight.  He has an altercation with his ex-boss which shows that Oscar has a temper.  We know that he was incarcerated once and his temper was displayed there as well.  But now Oscar tries hard to keep that temper in check.  He trying to be a good guy and be deserving of the love of the main women in his life.

We see his heartfelt side in trying to save a dog that has just been run over.  We also see him dump some stash that he was going to sell into the bay.  He wants to make good decisions.

Part of the heartbreak of the film comes from the fact that we get that Oscar's best days are just around the corner.  He's gonna be rewarded for his good work.  It's all gonna work out for him.  Except that it so painfully doesn't.

A friend, my partner and I were all wiping away those tears as was most of the audience.  I even knew what was coming but I could not stop the emotions.  This is unquestionably what writer-first-time-director Ryan Coogler wanted.  He wanted to portray Oscar in the most favorable light possible and it worked on me.

But that very issue is why some are up in arms over the film.  Why fabricate the film, they say?  Apparently the incidents with the dog and the stash were made up in an effort to show what a good guy Oscar was.  I think both incidents are too insignificant to get one's hackles up.  So what?  Films purported to be true accounts often are embellished with some dramatic or even comical moments.  Sometimes scenes are added or real-life events omitted for dramatic clarity.  So what?  This is minor stuff.  Get over it.

Likewise, the real Oscar was once apparently arrested for possession of an illegal handgun and that wasn't mentioned.  I guess there are those who think that should have been mentioned.  Why?  This was a film about the last day in a young man's life and the handgun incident didn't happen in that day.  Isn't that good enough?

It is said the film is based on a true story.  Do we really want to know every detail there is to know?  Wouldn't that be monumentally dull?  Based on is surely about providing the essence of someone or some incident and by and large that's good enough for me.  They got it right.

What was also right was the acting.  I was not aware of Michael B. Jordan beforehand but the dude rocks.  A great deal was required of him to pull off this portrayal and he succeeded on all levels.  He's gone into my brain along with two other young, black actors who have made a deep impression, 42's Chadwick Boseman and Derek Luke's Antwone Fisher.

At the same time I wouldn't be surprised if Octavia Spencer copped another Oscar nomination.  She was that good.  Melonie Diaz and Ariana Neal were all they should have been as the girlfriend and daughter... and then some.

And a great big wow to writer-director Coogler in his maiden voyage on the big screen.  I am usually highly critical of first-timers' works.  Usually what I see from them is that they are in woefully over their heads.  But not here.  When you hear that criticism they're leveling at you, put your hands over your ears and make loud noises.  It was a great job.

The issue at the end of the film, on that well-lit train platform, is partially about how blacks are perceived by whites.  We hear a lot about that these days... blacks in hoodies, running/jogging, out late at night.  Here it's a group thing.  Black men and women, friends all, get noisily off a train.  They're having fun.  It's midnight on New Year's Eve.  But it's been reported that there's been a fight on the train and the cops, probably taken aback or fearful of the group, becomes involved way too aggressively.   They don't investigate or interrogate as much as they bully and shove.  And a young man is shot in the back and killed.

They are hassled with no respect.  No one was armed (except the police) and no one was resisting at any dangerous level.  What about treating people that could very well be innocent with some dignity?  This point is what makes the film so compelling and so utterly timely.

The killing on the well-lit train platform was pretty hard to watch and the hospital scenes afterwards simply heart-breaking.

I believe it was a story that needed to be told and it was told very well.

Coming in August

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