Fruitvale Station feels like 90 minutes of a massive issue or rather, 90 minutes of massive issues. Although compact and narrowly focused – the movie centers around the last day of an Oakland man’s life – Fruitvale Station raises a host of timely concerns and sets out, as 27 year old writer-director Ryan Coogler puts it, “to have an impact on the future, and make viewers think about how we treat each other.” In other words, are you guilty of racial profiling? And what needs to be fixed?
The above extraction from Fruitvale Station is crude but accurate: the film opens with actual YouTube footage of 22 year old African-American Oscar Grant being shot and killed by a BART police officer at the Fruitvale, Oakland BART station. The remainder of the film traces Grant’s last day, with flashbacks of a recent stint in prison. Although the majority of the film seemingly shows unordinary moments of just another day, knowing the outcome of the story is its own reward in appreciating the film – as intended, the context of “last day alive” is a recipe for drama. Another feat involved with the simple narrative of a single day in Oscar Grant’s life: Coogler gets close enough and brings Grant’s absolutely real issues of race relations, in a range of small and large instances, to the big screen for the viewer’s examination.
The film, however, is not all doom and gloom, but it might as well be: Coogler highlights moments of hope, of optimism for Oscar and for “human behavior” in general. Grant himself is portrayed as a playful, caring individual, with a sense of humor toward “white people Christmas cards”. The moments of levity and endearment, especially those shared with Grant’s 4 year old daughter, however, are fleeting. What stays is the fact that Oscar Grant was shot and killed, while unarmed, by a BART police officer on New Year’s Day 2009.
Michael B. Jordan stars as Oscar Grant, and plays him convincingly. The team behind Fruitvale Station should be applauded for producing the film as a seemingly authentic portrayal. I ride BART everyday and I got chills. The film is shot with contemporary storytelling – text messages appear on screen. The now-ness of Fruitvale Station is not only race related, but tech related as well. Coogler is mindful of the tech relevance. He explains: “So many people have died in similar circumstances to Oscar’s, it’s crazy. The thing that made Oscar’s death different was that people recorded it. So many people get killed like this, and nobody’s there to witness it.” Except now YouTube.
Fruitvale Station won the Grand Jury Prize for dramatic feature and the Audience Award for U.S. dramatic film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. At Cannes, it was awarded Best First Film. Academy Award winners Forest Whitaker and Octavia Spencer contribute to Fruitvale Station’s production as producer and supporting actress, respectively. The Weistein Company is now behind U.S. distribution. In other words: Ryan Coogler is invited to next year’s Academy Awards. It is “early” in the Oscar race, but as of now, in terms of critical acclaim, buzz and merit, Fruitvale Station is a frontrunner in Oscar recognition. Coogler’s feature film debut is confident, focused and promising. A Best Director nod paired with a Best Original Screenplay nod are not out of the question for the young filmmaker. Michael B. Jordan also shines and a Best Actor nod will be considered by the Academy. Melonie Diaz, as Jordan’s onscreen girlfriend, should garner Oscar buzz in the upcoming weeks. Her range of scorn, doubt, resistance, concern and heartache cannot go unnoticed – it’s her wrenching heart you see break throughout the film. It turns out Diaz is a seasoned Indie actress (Raising Victor Vargas, Be Kind Rewind) and in Fruitvale Station her talent as a dramatic actress is ever so apparent. I look forward to Fruitvale Station’s spotlight at the Academy Awards.
Chani envisions a Hollywood where Daniel Day-Lewis or Michael Fassbender star as Ludwig Wittgenstein in a film based on Ray Monk’s biography, The Duty of Genius. Paul Thomas Anderson directs. Her Hollywood also casts Ezra Miller in Søren Kierkegaard’s Diary of a Seducer. Anne Hathaway stars in Gaspar Noé’s next production. HBO debuts a travel show starring Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell and Tommy Wiseau as Tommy Wiseau. And Michael Haneke directs a sequel to The Seventh Continent. In 3D.
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