Coming from a generation that finds it difficult to get emotionally charged at the best of times (it’s in my genes, what can I say?) it is a rare thing indeed for me to get upset by a mere movie. The last time I had to wipe away a tear at a film was probably The Impossible. You know, the bit where the father finds his kids? Well that was a year and three hundred plus movies ago and Fruitvale Station is the latest film on an increasingly rare list; those films that made me, that stubborn bad-tempered grump that I am, well up and look for the tissues.
Concerning allegedly true events (the motives behind what happened may always be a mystery, even if the results of those motives are clear) of the last day of Oscar Grant, from waking up on New Year’s Eve in 2008, to the tragic events the following morning.
We follow Oscar, played jaw-droppingly by Michael B. Jordan, as he goes about his day, taking his four-year-old daughter Tatiana to nursery school, picking up food at the supermarket (where he used to work) for his mother’s birthday party (on the same night) and trying to make ends meet with the rent due and friends and family that need his time, generosity of spirit, and financial aid. All of these he is prepared to give, though only two of them is he able to provide.
We see, through flashbacks, his recent history of incarceration, as if to highlight the fact that he was a bad boy on the way to becoming a good guy, despite his drug-dealing at the time of his demise. The film feels the need to point out that he was stopping this too, despite it really being the only real source of income he had to pay his rent and feed his family. As if Oscar needed to be virtuous beyond reproach for the audience to emotionally attach themselves to him. Writer and Director Ryan Cooglan has taken an incident that may have easily passed the world by as just another black youth (Oscar was 22 at the time) that got on the wrong side of the law and paid a hefty price for it. White-collared, middle-class conservative Americans everywhere will have probably seen the story on the evening news at the time and will have barely looked up from their dinner. (I can’t say what my country’s middle-class would make of it as the film has yet to be released in the UK)
As a movie, Fruitvale Station is as perfect a film as I’ve seen this year. It is written and directed sublimely, with excellent cinematography and stunningly realistic portrayals of people we have never met and at least one we will never meet. The entire egaging acting cast from four-years-old and upwards are all outstanding and there wasn’t a single one character or performance that felt like it was lacking. It is abundantly clear that Cooglan was a man inspired by Oscar Grant’s story and has a very unique and focused vision about what he wanted to show the world. Not only is it the tragedy and injustice of a young life cut short, but the loss that tragedy has on those left living without him. Coming off the back of a couple of other Oscar contenders for the upcoming awards season, this is a step up from those more recently reviewed and deserves to do well in many areas, not least Best Actor, Director and Film.
A highly recommended film that deals with a difficult, emotive and tragic subject with care, deference and great skill. This is what cinema should be, ladies and gentlemen.