Out of all the movies I see in theaters every year, I’m always on the lookout for one that has a great deal of importance behind its story. That label can come from either a true story or an original piece inspired by a previously recognized piece of art. Just now entering the second half of the year, I think I have already found that type of film.
The true story that serves as the backdrop for first-time writer and director Ryan Coogler’s indie “Fruitvale Station” is quite heartbreaking if you’re already aware of it, but it is just as emotionally effective if you walk into it without any prior knowledge of the event. With that aside though, this movie is a grand achievement in independent filmmaking for bringing a tragic event into the faces of everyone in America.
The film follows the events of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan) on New Year’s Eve 2008 in Oakland, California. Originally a two-time convicted felon, he focuses on trying to rebuild his life as a father to his 4-year-old daughter, in addition to trying to maintain a job for the long-term basis of contributing to the living situation of his daughter, girlfriend and himself. In addition to planning out a trip with his friends for New Year’s Eve, he is also on hand to celebrate the birthday of his mother (Octavia Spencer). Eventually, all of these encounters build up to him and his friends taking the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system back from their New Year’s night out. However, it culminates in an ending that has still spurred controversy and debate up until the present day.
As Oscar Grant III, Michael B. Jordan delivers the best lead male performance I’ve seen this year so far. He got his breakthrough from playing teenage drug dealer Wallace in the brilliant HBO series “The Wire,” and this role here shows how his career has built up so well to this moment. He expresses great charisma with all the actors he plays alongside, in addition to playing the sympathetic side of the character in an approach that is so endearing to the point that it’s impossible to dislike.
Furthermore, he does an equally phenomenal job at conveying the character’s flaws — even though Grant tries hard, he still can’t escape certain moments of his dark past. The point in the film however, where Jordan really puts all his cards on the table in terms of his acting is the climax that occurs at Fruitvale Station. His method of going through several emotions at a time is heart-wrenching to watch, but also profoundly raw and realistic.
Octavia Spencer and Melonie Diaz highlight the biggest names in the supporting cast, playing Grant’s mother and girlfriend respectively. Spencer is in the film for only a few scenes, but she certainly makes the best out of all of them. This especially comes into play for the penultimate scene her character appears in, which I believe has sealed her chance at many Best Supporting Actress nominations in the forthcoming awards season.
Diaz has always been known for work in the independent genre, but this role gives her the deserving opportunity to broaden her range. Likewise to the situation that Spencer is placed in, she displays the best of her performance when the climax occurs.
As a first-time feature filmmaker, Ryan Coogler proves that he’s a substantial talent to watch out for in the future. Having previously directed three award-winning short films as a film student at USC, he makes a remarkable debut handling this tragic true story with a strong sense of both graceful sensitivity and assurance. His incorporation of the handheld filming style assists in the documentary-esque presentation the film carries, which also heightens the raw detail of the Oakland setting. Though he does take the approach of making the audience sympathize with Grant’s positive qualities, Coogler makes sure to acknowledge the man’s faults too, which are mostly highlighted in a well-constructed flashback sequence that accentuates Grant’s hot temper with people that disrespect him or his family.
As I stated earlier, this movie deals with a very tragic true story, which means that it will still cause debate despite the event itself happening over four years ago. However, I truly appreciate its advance of not actually taking a stance on the questionable morals and actions that lurked behind it. More than anything else, the main intention of this film is to produce a powerful dramatization of Oscar Grant’s life, along with showcasing it in the most raw and realistic detail possible. There are certain moments that sometimes made me forget I was watching a movie, and not experiencing reality.
While it may not be a film of a particular large scale, “Fruitvale Station” will be one of those movies that will thrive more off of its relevant importance rather than commercial success. Fortunately, however, that’s a type of feat that I’d still be proud of nonetheless. It isn’t easy to watch once the tragic third act kicks in, but it closes on an emotionally powerful note that is both ultimately rewarding and important for making you think about the world in general.
RECOMMENDED: This the most powerful, emotionally affective movie to release so far this year.