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I don't usually bother writing reviews, but this is a good little film
that I feel has been unfairly maligned by a few uninformed reviewers
here, so I'll add my two cents:
Fruitvale Station is a solid film, well paced and edited, with a strong lead performance by Michael B. Jordan and some standout work by Octavia Spencer. The sound design is particularly noteworthy. The cinema verite camera-work (No, "M. Brand," the visual style here was a choice; well made student films, even cheap ones, generally look better than this) left me underwhelmed for most of the film (and honestly, the mistimed focus pulls were pretty distracting) but paid off big time in the Fruitvale sequence. There the cinematography, editing, sound design, and score combined to create the most gripping ten minutes of film I've seen in a year. I'd recommend Fruitvale on the strength of this sequence alone.
Ryan Coogler admittedly takes some dramatic license with the story. Some of it (the Katie character) works, some (the bit with the dog) comes off heavy-handed. None of it gave me any reason to question the film's "fidelity" to the facts. The unfettered access to Oscar's family, legal documents from the criminal and civil case (including all the video taken on the scene), and the tacit approval of BART (They were allowed to film on the actual BART platform and in their cars!) gives me no reason to believe this film takes any more narrative license with the facts of the Fruitvale incident than many documentaries would.
The film is not perfect. Some of the performances are subpar, some of the improvised dialogue bumps, and the day-in-the-life conceit, while not ignoring Oscar's spotty past, does paint him in an unrealistically rosy light. But by and large this is a moving, gripping, at times infuriating film that will stick with you after the credits roll. Congratulations to Coogler and his team.
**As for the troll who called this film "socially irresponsible," your opinion and the reasoning behind it are so abhorrent I struggle to imagine any person, no matter how ignorant or loathsome they might be, taking you seriously.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film depicts story of a deeply flawed young man struggling to turn
his life around. The movie reveals the generous good-hearted nature of
Oscar, on whose life the story is based. The awards the film has won
are well deserved, as the film-maker succeeds in presenting an
unsparing look at Oscar's many failings even as he humanizes this young
man whose life is largely unknown to the American public. In a quite
amazing fashion, all of this is done through the lens of a single day
in Oscar's life, with only the aid of one brief flash-back.
Despite his efforts and his kindness, Oscar is failing to transcend his past as much as he is succeeding in doing so. His struggle to change is fueled by his relationships with three women central to his life, and we are on the edge of our seats watching his relationships play out with them, knowing before the movie begins how it will end. It is a credit to the film-maker that he is able both to maintain that tension and at the same time to draw us into Oscar's world so effectively. This craftsmanship only underlines the tragedy of the final outcome more starkly.
It is sad that the review that wins pride of place on this website ignores Oscar and focuses on Officer Mehserle, who appears only briefly in the movie. The film does not demonize Officer Mehserle, and one might be tempted to do, but rather presents him as a blank slate. Surely, as those who witnessed the events appeared to do, and as the jury who found him guilty corroborated, we might well assume that he committed a crime. However, his motives are not suggested in the movie, his youth is clearly depicted, and his inexperience implied. Surely any professional, a doctor for example, who makes a mistake of motor memory under pressure and thus takes the life of another human being, should be held accountable for her actions to the full extent of the law.
I knew nothing about the true story behind this film before I saw it but Ryan Coogler did an impressive job of telling this controversial story. Coogler takes us to the last day in 2008, and introduces us to Oscar Grant's life. A young, troubled father that is trying to do the right thing by his family. This was his debut at Sundance and he didn't disappoint. The audience laughed when the actors laughed and shed tears when the actors shed tears...it was a very moving film. By the end of the film I felt as though I knew these people personally. The whole cast did an excellent job! I'm looking forward to hearing more about Ryan Coogler in the future.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Greetings again from the darkness. It's not politically correct to
criticize this movie, but it seems only fair to treat it as I do every
other movie on which I comment. If that sounds like a bashing is
coming, you are mistaken. In fact, this is an emotionally-charged, well
written and exceptionally well-acted movie that provides much
anticipation for the future projects of its first time director Ryan
Coogler. However, in my opinion, it is also flawed in its "Based on a
True Story" placard that is then followed by much manipulation (3 Oprah
references), some of it even bordering on misleading.
If you are unfamiliar with the tragic story, 22 year old Oscar Grant was inexplicably shot and killed (while subdued and face down) by a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) cop after watching New Year's Eve fireworks with his girlfriend and buddies. An altercation/fight occurred on the train and the officers pulled Grant aside to detain/arrest. Much of this was caught on cell phone video by train passengers, and the aftermath brought protests in the city. The officer was tried and found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years. He claimed he mistook his gun for his Taser.
No one can argue that this was anything but a senseless tragedy. Director Coogler even begins his movie with actual cell phone footage of the incident. The ending is known and seared in the viewer's mind before the story even begins. Whether the senseless shooting was racially driven is a topic for debate, but the current media focus on the George Zimmerman trial and his killing of Trayvon Martin makes the timing of this movie quite compelling.
Coogler certainly points out that Grant (adeptly played by Michael B Jordan) was no angel. We learn about his prison stints, his drug dealing, his unfaithfulness to his girlfriend (the mother of his daughter), his lack of responsibility (losing his job due to chronic absence), his string of lies, and most glaringly ... his terrifyingly quick and violent temper. My issue with the film is the seemingly inordinate amount of time Coogler spends on the flip side -- the focus on Oscar's desire to get his life back on track. So much effort and so many scenes are written to exhibit how Oscar is a charming guy with a big heart. He helps out a white lady in the grocery store, he takes a big step towards leaving the drug dealing life, he plans his mother's birthday party, heck ... he even cradles a poor dog that was hit by a car. This inequity in storytelling apparently has only one purpose ... to create another symbol of racial injustice. We are not left to ponder if the real Oscar is the one who inspires his daughter to brush her teeth or the one who bows up to a foul-mouthed convict. Instead, Coogler wants us to believe that Oscar was now a good guy who had put his past behind him ... all in the 24 hours leading up to his death.
The fact is, there are two sides of Oscar, just like everyone has multiple facets to their personality. Most of us learn to control the sides that doesn't mesh well with society ... others really struggle to do so. Michael B Jordan delivers a powerful performance as Oscar, and he and Octavia Spencer (who plays his mom) will both garner awards attention. Other supporting work is provided by Melonie Diaz as his girlfriend, Ariana Neal as his precious daughter, Ahna O'Reilly as the shopper, and Kevin Durand and Chad Michael Murray as the BART cops.
This film was the hit of both Sundance and Cannes, and was produced by Forest Whitaker. A major tip of the cap to BART for allowing the filmmakers to work on location at the actual Fruitvale station, for a level of authenticity. Coogler chooses one last bit of manipulation with his closing video of Oscar's daughter Tatiana at a recent memorial outside of Fruitvale station ... followed by on screen text of the officer's two year sentence. We get no details on the trial, only the assumption that the sentence does not deliver justice, but rather another example of racial bias.
Lastly I'll say that the decision to make a dramatization rather than a documentary was interesting. This allowed the director to focus on Oscar the good guy. A documentary would have required facts from the trial, a better perspective of the train disturbance and probably fewer Oprah references. The dramatization makes the movie more emotionally charged and more effective at inspiring discussion, rather than debate. Despite all of that, this is extraordinary filmmaking from a first time director, and I will certainly look forward to Ryan Coogler's next project.
Based on the true story of one of the most heart wrenching instances of
police brutality in American history, Fruitvale Station humanizes Oscar
Grant, a victim of senseless police violence and racial profiling. This
film does not paint him as a saint nor does it paint him as a crook, it
shows him as a human being with many flaws. Michael B. Jordan gives an
electrifying performance as Oscar Grant. He doesn't miss a single step
and delivers a performance that has solidified him as a force to be
reckoned with on screen. The film, as a whole, works but not for
storytelling. This is a film that has great performances and that keeps
it above average on many levels. If there was anyone else playing these
roles, especially Jordan, I feel as if the film wouldn't pack as much
of a punch. Ryan Coogler directs the hell out of his actors and does a
fantastic job keeping pace. Running at just below an hour and a half,
the film moves. It doesn't drag, it doesn't lack, it is a beautiful and
moving portrayal of a man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time
and the decisions that he made to put him at Fruitvale Station on that
Overall, this is a film with powerhouse performances that needs to be seen. The 2013 awards season definitely has a contender in Fruitvale Station along with a soon-to-be Oscar nominated Michael B. Jordan.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An independent film written and directed with stunning effectiveness by
newcomer Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station is based on a true story, and
even though its story of an unarmed black male who is shot on New
Year's Day, is pulled from national headlines, the film is a character
study of the choices in life and how a cruel twist of fate intervenes.
It lingers in the heart and mind long after the end, and as such is one
of the best films of the year.
We witness video footage of police rounding up black youths at a transit train station, and while the suspects are on the ground and restrained, a gun goes off striking one of them in full view of witnesses. What follows is a flashback account of the final day of Oscar Grant's life and the events leading up to New Year's Day 2009. Amid the backdrop of the Oakland Bay area, Oscar (Michael B. Jordan in a breakout performance) is a young black man whose background is a mix of prison, drug dealing, and failed jobs amid a serious relationship with his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz), and their little daughter. He loves his family especially his mother (Octavia Spencer is rock solid) and vows to make a better life for them. It is New Year's Eve, and he helps to prepare his mother's birthday celebration. Just as he is on the brink of a new start, fate intervenes at a transit station and a deadly encounter with police.
Oscar is a man who has a conscience and a sense of responsibility. On the one hand he is portrayed as a devoted father, a passionate lover to his girlfriend, and loving son to his mom, and yet he lies to his loved ones and is in constant turmoil. It is affecting to see that he genuinely wants to leave behind his broken life and get a second chance. We root for him too, and that makes what happens at the end that much more compelling.
This is the sort of subject matter, which can be viewed as an indictment of police violence and a statement on racism that might have been ideal for HBO or a filmed documentary like The Thin Blue Line. You also expect to see a post-shooting trial, but the film focuses instead on the events and people around Oscar that lead up to the fateful moment. It is a portrait of a young, flawed life ended before it has a chance to redeem itself. We want to know a bit more about Oscar; what put him in prison, and what was his childhood like? Instead we get a fragment, one day in his life, about a father and his little daughter and the life they had and never will again. The final images of Oscar's real life daughter after the events depicted in the film are touching and sobering.
Coogler shows a good command of a scene and how to make it authentic. Moments of levity such as a group countdown to New Years are counterpointed by tense confrontations from the past. The dialogue is realistic, and you really feel you are watching a slice of real life. The pivotal scene of the police arresting Oscar and his friends is startling and upsetting; you feel like it could happen to you. The frantic reactions and emotions of the victims and witnesses as a shot rings out is heart wrenching.
Liberal use of hand-held cameras lends an immediacy and realism to the events, and there is a great shot of Sophina from behind as she reacts to the tragedy. We don't need to see her face because we know from her body language exactly how she must feel.
One wonders how much of the screenplay is based on truth, but whether this is or isn't a biased view of an event by the filmmaker, it is highly emotionally affective filmmaking. In light of other recent, racially charged headlines, it cannot help but become a hot topic. This vivid, stark reenactment of an event that should never have happened is a relatively simple tale of a complex life, a kind of urban, American tragedy. It is a powerful, filmic statement that raises questions that demand answers.
Seldom do we remember in our desensitized 24-hour news society that
behind every headline, every momentary tragedy, and every affected
victim there's always a personable human story that reveals the true
layers of heartbreak once exposed for all to grasp, understand, and
mourn. One example in particular of modern headline tragedy was the
senseless,unwarranted shooting of 22-year old Oscar Grant by police
officers at the Fruitvale BART station that reinvigorated a debate on
prejudice and a call for civil rights that unfortunately lead to some
violent protests in the aftermath. This heated headline event is the
subject of 26-year old filmmaker Ryan Coogler's debut feature entitled
Fruitvale Station that is a relatively solid first film depicting the
importance of family, the rarity of second chances, and the difficulty
of responsibility leading up the inevitable heartbreaking event that is
heavily dependent on performances rather than strong narrative
substance. What's meant by the word solid is that this isn't an
immaculate film without flaws and deserving of infinite praise because
it contains a great deal of manipulative narrative tricks, an overly
positive dramatization of its protagonist, and absolutely zero new
insight on the societal issues involved or a genuine message to take
away beyond its sad and rather plain recreation of actual events.
Instead of delving deep into the obvious flaws of Oscar Grant, ranging
from an ill temper, relationship cheating, and drug peddling, Coogler
sets out to overly forgive these foibles making Grant a martyr instead
of a palpable human being representing how no one deserves his tragic
fate no matter their past, present, or potential future. However,
Fruitvale Station does demonstrate that strong acting performances
coupled with a careful execution of technical choices from a new
energetic developing talent in Ryan Coogler can make an effective and
emotional film. Most of the positives within the film are located in
the light dramatic touch of the hand-held camera work, the intimate
settings, and the strong acting, especially a star turning performance
from Michael B. Jordan who carries the tragic weight of the film on his
shoulders. Though Coogler's debut feature might possess an idealized
portrayal of his film's subject Oscar Grant as well as some blanketed
assumptions on justice there is a great deal of admirable qualities
that makes it a dramatically riveting and socially tragic depiction of
Read more: http://wp.me/py8op-zQ; More reviews: Generationfilm.net
"Fruitvale Station" is not the feel-good movie of the year. Nevertheless, I think you should stop at this station to witness the impact that this movie throws at you. The film is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008. Grant was accidentally killed by a police officer at the Fruitvale BART station. The officer was part of a group of policemen who held Grant and his friends at the station for fighting with others in a train. This unfortunate event did not get the headlines that the Trayvon Martin case did, but was just as sad because a young life was taken away way too soon. Writer-Director Ryan Coogler orchestrates "Fruitvale Station" primarily on Grant's last day with his family, girlfriend, and friends; instead of just simply taking the "plight for justice" road. Consequently, that gives the movie more depth and authenticity. Coogler's scribe of the picture was not as impressive as his direction but still gets the word out on doing what is right not just for one's own sake but for their loves ones; and of course, he also disseminates the message on the unjustified death of Grant. Michael B. Jordan's starring performance as Grant was a slam dunk; and let me tell you it was no lay-up due to the nature of the complex character he had to portray. Jordan completely disappeared into the role. There were also some impressive supporting turns from Oscar-winner Ocatavia Spencer as Grant's mother Wanda, and Melonie Diaz as his girlfriend Sophina. "Fruitvale Station" does get overdramatic at times, but it does have justifiable reason to do it. So you might want to take a hanky, but I think this movie is one that should be on your track to witness. ***** Excellent
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
At a recent screening of 'Fruitvale Station', I asked director Ryan
Coogler if he believed the Involuntary Manslaughter conviction of the
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer who shot Oscar Grant, was
justified. Coogler was circumspect, stating that he was just trying to
make a movie about what happened but he added that he could understand
how Grant's family could have been very much upset with the verdict. An
African-American man in the audience commented that that the film did a
great service in pointing out the ongoing problem of police brutality
in America today; again Coogler was circumspect, acknowledging that his
film has engendered a multiplicity of opinions as to the proper verdict
for the officer who was charged with Grant's shooting.
From my point of viewpoint, despite Coogler's refusal to take sides in public, it's clear that he's seeking to manipulate his audience so that they feel outraged at Grant's shooting. He accomplishes this by creating a fictional narrative of one last 'day-in-the-life' of Grant's movements, before the fatal shooting. Perhaps Coogler was reacting to some of the unfortunate public disparagement's of Grant after he was killed; but Coogler goes overboard in making him into a martyr. By stacking a whole group of improbable incidents that emphasize what a 'good guy' Grant was, into one day, the entire narrative feels manipulative and forced.
And what exactly are all these incidents that may or may not have actually occurred? Perhaps the most bathetic of Coogler's manipulations is when he has Grant give the stray pit bull that had been killed by a hit and run driver, his last 'rites' by the seashore (highly unlikely that this occurred as Grant is never seen telling anyone about it!). There are more questionable incidents for example: Grant calling his mother for some 'fish fry wisdom' for the untutored female shopper and patiently convincing a shop owner to allow the women he was with (along with another pregnant passerby) to use the bathroom. If in fact this film ISN'T designed to provoke outrage over a perceived injustice, A.A. Dowd of the A.V. Club writes that its intended impact is significantly diminished: "Fruitvale Station plays like an uncomplicated eulogy, with little more to say on its subject than "what a shame this bad thing happened."
While Coogler attempts to humanize his protagonist by showing him to have a serious anger management problem, Grant's anger (in Coogler's eyes) sometimes seems to be justified. Take for example, Grant's blow- up in the flashback when he's a prisoner at San Quentinit's the correction officers who are preventing Grant from talking to his mother.
I understand that what Coogler was trying to say about Grant was that at a certain point in his life he was not perfect and had some problems, but by the time he was killed, he had gotten his life together and moved past what was going on in the past. That may be true but sometimes 'karma' has a way of catching up with you. Grant was actually put in prison for weapons possession (a fact that Coogler does not mention). His confrontation on the train with the ex-con who tormented him in prison led to Grant being taken off the train by the police at Fruitvale Station. Had he not been in prison in the first place, it's likely he would never have had that confrontation on the train, and would never have been taken off the train, which led to his death. So here was a guy who was going forward but could not escape his past. This tragic theme seems a lot more truthful than Coogler's agenda which was to highlight the injustice of the verdict.
Unfortunately, if one is looking for a case of classic police brutality, what happened at Fruitvale Station, does not fit the bill as the 'poster child' for such incidents. The officer charged with the crime indicated that he mistakenly reached for his gun instead of his Taser. If he was going to shoot someone intentionally, would it be in front of witnesses who were filming the incident with their cell phone cameras? Clearly it was an accident. But why does Coogler fail to mention that one of Grant's friends heard the officer say, "I'm going to tase him." Because by doing so, that would be proof that the shooting was an accident and unintentional. In reality, this was a case of negligence, not brutality on the part of the police, despite Mr. Coogler's apparent stance to the contrary.
Despite all the mixed messages, Coogler still should be commended for his technical expertise. Working with a team of fellow USC students, Coogler has managed to put together a nice-looking film. He directs his actors well, particularly during the taut, climactic scene, where the tragic action unfolds. The neophyte director has bit off more than he can chew, attempting to dissect a topic infused with racial animus. Next time he would be much better served churning out a less controversial, commercial product. Whatever the case, it's likely he has a good chance of going far in today's ever-challenging film industry.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is a completely biased "slice of life" that is trying to
pass itself off as a documentary. It is intended to fan the flames of
hatred and rage over a very tragic incident. Why? In the film, Oscar
Grant is portrayed as a troubled young man with a heart of gold. I,
along with 99.9999% of the other viewers of this movie, have no idea
what Oscar Grant was like. But this film was so obviously biased, with
so strong of a political agenda, I don't believe one bit of the picture
they painted of Oscar Grant. How can I?
Along the same lines, what difference does it make what Oscar Grant was like as a living person? If Mr. Grant had slipped on the train platform and been killed by the train, that would have been an equal tragedy. But would it have mattered what happened in the last hours before his death? I don't see it.
This movie implies that what happened to Mr. Grant was NOT an accident, and that justice has not been done. That to me is a travesty, because every reasonable, thinking person understands how this terrible tragedy occurred. It was not racism. It was not police brutality. It was an accident.
That is why I gave this film such a low rating. It attempts to stir up outrage and hatred, all while completely ignoring the facts about a tragic incident. That is not only poor film-making, it is socially irresponsible.
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