Oscar For An Oscar!

Fruitvale Station (2013)
A Review By Ben Hunter
4½ Out Of 5 Stars
July 12, 2013


This was done by a first timer … who pulled this off so well that he looked like a 100th timer!

New Year’s Eve 2008, a young 22 year old Oscar Grant III seeks to get his job back at the local grocery store deli.  Having been released from prison a year or so earlier from a drug conviction, Oscar is determined to stop leaving his life in ruins each day and wants to do better.  To be a better boyfriend to his girlfriend Sophina, a better father to his daughter Tatiana, a better son to his mother Wanda, and a better man to himself.  To celebrate the ushering in of the New Year and the resolutions Oscar has made with himself and confessions to Sophina, with other friends, they decide to watch fireworks in another part of town and take the train to get there.  On the way back, Oscar’s prison troubles catch up with him on the train, within the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) near the stop or the station of Fruitvale, a neighborhood in East Oakland, CA.  As one of Oscar’s convict rivals advances him and his friends on the train, chaos ensues then quiets the moment the police are called.  Not knowing the participants of the fight or the whole story, the police single out 4 of the African American train passengers that they think are the cause, including Oscar, who pleads with the cops that they’re all trying to get home.  As the tension builds with the police who want to calm the crowd, who are videotaping everything, and those caught under the wrath of the law, the police, let things slip through their fingers when they provoke the suspects whom everyone feels were racially profiled, calling them names and using even harsher physical force to contain them all and keep the rest of the crowd around the detainees at bay.  With Oscar handcuffed, on his stomach on the ground, after having a boot firmly pressed against the back of his had and neck, after regretfully going along with the humiliating display of treatment to him and his peers (all minorities mind you), Oscar is shot in the back by one of the policemen and fights for survival in a nearby hospital bed. 

Lead actor Michael B. Jordan and Melonie Diaz as Oscar and Sophina.
It’s something that this film was released the exact weekend the verdict was announced of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case.  Producer Forrest Whitaker and the rest of the team couldn’t have planned this any better if they tried.  Hopefully the power of this film will raise the country’s awareness to the issues at hand and help us to move forward in the right direction. 

Feature film writer/directorial debut of Ryan Coogler, brilliantly captures the message of getting us to think before we act in his riveting and thrilling new film Fruitvale Station, this year’s big winner at the Sundance Film Festival.  This is a film that deals with the emotional issue of racial profiling and struggling with authority for the justice one seeks, coincidentally when America deals with such a subject the very weekend the film is released.  I couldn’t be happier as I hope we as a country open our eyes to these issues that are more prevalent now.  

Sophina's worried something might happen to Oscar.
Lead actor Michael B. Jordan was able to infiltrate himself into the culture of Fruitvale and the eastern Oakland environment a month prior to filming of the movie to learn more about Oscar from the different people that knew him.  After weeks of rehearsal with fellow cast members, such as Melonie Diaz who plays his girlfriend Sophina and Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer who amazingly plays his mother Wanda, Jordan successfully pulls off the essence of the character as people closely connected to the story were pleased with its portrayal. 

I really like that due to how well written it was, in addition, Jordan was able to add on and help to display the underlining humanity of Oscar; to show us his real and true kind hearted nature, beneath the tough exterior created from prison and the hardcore street life he lives everyday.  How he loves his daughter Tatiana (nicely done by Ariana Neal who Jordan said was more professional than he was, knowing all his lines in scenes together).  How Oscar fights for his relationship with his girlfriend Sophina.  Or how Coogler brilliantly writes a scene to truly drive the point home of Oscar’s humanity with Oscar and a stray dog.  In screenwriting we call this the “save the cat” moment.  The moment that makes us now really care about this lead character and want to now follow him/her for the rest of the story.  This was nicely done in the story of Fruitvale Station.  In the relaying of the humanity of Oscar with the writing and such, I did feel from time to time the “where is this scene going” feeling.  Which by the end of that particular scene Coogler never failed to deliver the necessity of it.  To properly display the 24 hours of Oscar’s life that lead up to the events that took place at the train station that night.

The camera work, in correlation with the editing of the film, was nicely done.  I love how the dance of the camera perfectly synced with the cuts of the film to give us a nice pace of the story to relay the necessary mood of a particular scene and overall with the movie in general.  Makes me happy to hear this was all done in only 21 days with ONE camera, a young crew, with passion in their hearts and egos a million miles away.  Quite frankly, the best way to make a movie!

Oscar's humanity shines through his tough exterior here with his daughter Tatiana.
I’m really happy for this film and all the recognition it’s receiving!  THIS is the true winner of the weekend.  Writer/director Ryan Coogler is only 2 years younger than myself (Michael B. Jordan 3 years), which gives me hope as another young, up and coming African American filmmaker; hopefully helping us to realize that there’s hope for everyone in life and to never give up on our passions, thus relaying such with others in our lives.  If we seek true justice in our legal system, hopefully now we’re aware of the problem.  So never give up hope in what you passionately fight for in life!

The Weinsteins sure do know how to pick them!  Go see Fruitvale Station and maybe Oscar will receive an Oscar this season!

Fruitvale Station
Drama, 85 Minutes, R
Written & Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Durand, & Chad Michael Murray

Fruitvale Station from Communications Voir on Vimeo.

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