Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Fruitvale Station



Fruitvale Station begins with a shooting that took place on New Year’s Eve, 2009 at a rapid transit station in Oakland, California. Then the clock turns back 24 hours to show us a day in the life of a man (Oscar Grant) involved in that shooting. 

Amazingly, Fruitvale Station is Ryan Coogler’s first film. He has made a film which features terrific natural performances (the film feels real, not sentimental) and a lean tight screenplay. The cinematography is of the handheld variety I don’t care for, but it’s appropriate for this kind of film (based on a true story). With the help of an excellent performance by Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station does such a good job of presenting Oscar and his environment to us, on that one ordinary day of his life (with some flashbacks), that we feel we know Oscar and his family. This makes the ending especially powerful.

The straightforward way Oscar’s story is told is a strength of the film, but also its primary weakness. The story is told in such a simple way that opportunities to ask some bigger questions about the shooting are wasted. In other words, the film could have been more thoughtful and profound in its story-telling.

While Fruitvale Station is about an African-American family and does a great job of presenting the life of that African-American family, the film isn’t about race or racism (as far as I can tell), which makes the very last scene of the film confusing and unnecessary. Specifically, it seems to be a call for justice, with racial overtones, in a story that had a far more just ending than the shooting of, for example, Trayvon Martin. Indeed, that last scene seems to be asking for more jail time as if justice is measured by jail time. As I have mentioned previously, I have no patience for such ideas, or retributive justice in general, and feel that we (and the film industry) need to do a lot more to challenge our society’s assumptions regarding such false ideas of justice, not reinforce them.

Minor complaints aside, Fruitvale Station is an important well-made film and gets ***+. My mug is up.

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