MICHAEL B. JORDAN MELONIE DIAZ OCTAVIA SPENCER
Certain aspects of Fruitvale Station attempt to take the audience into a place we haven’t quite been before, at least not with this type of thoughtful character examination. Writer/director Ryan Coogler worked with Oscar winning actor Forrest Whitaker to produce this independent film that details the true story of Oscar Grant, portrayed by the explosive talent of Michael B. Jordan, who instantly rises to the top of 2013’s best performances. Coogler’s script seems to have a deep understanding of the culture presented here, as if he is turning over a rock that has been ignored in dramatic cinema.
22-year-old Oscar Grant (Jordon) has made many mistakes in his life. He is already the father of a five year old, served prison time, and now he is fired from his job at the grocery store for tardiness. He respects his mother (Spencer), who is having a birthday on the 31st of December; his siblings rely on him to make up for their absence and, in between fighting about their future, he and girlfriend Sophina (Diaz) prepare to celebrate Mrs. Grant’s birthday before they head into the city to watch fireworks and celebrate the New Year. Take the train so you don’t have to worry about trying to get back home, his mom tells him; it’s something that will haunt her forever.
The film focuses entirely on Oscar and his battle between trying to be the best father he can be, supporting his family and staying out of trouble; yet, we watch as he struggles with one foot facing a promising future and another sinking back into the life he desperately wants to put behind him. We see the kind and gentle side of Oscar at the market, where he helps a stranger choosing fish for a meal, then within that conversation is verbally aggressive to his manager who refuses to re-hire him. Again we see the same opposing forces at work when his mother visits him in prison during a flashback.
Coogler’s greatest asset, aside from Jordan’s performance, is the underlying suspense we feel at every corner and conversation Oscar has. The editing and lack of musical score draw us into what feels like the pace of a thriller waiting to crash into something. Spencer’s recent Oscar win for The Help and her simple talent and presence elevate this story exactly where it needs to be by the conclusion. Not since Matthew McConaughey’s Mud have we seen a character so exposed for the audience to understand his fascinating complexity in a way that is raw and unforgettable.
Final Thought – Jordon gives an Oscar worthy and unforgettable performance.
By: Dustin Chase