July 30, 2013

Movie Review: Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station is a pretty interesting film. It s a movie based on the true story of a shooting of a young man in the early hours of New Year's Day in 2009. It is a movie that probably would not exist if not for the viral nature the incident took on with the proliferation of cell phone cameras and footage recorded during the shooting. It also points towards changing society. Still, when you strip it all down, this is a movie about someone struggling with his place in life and a man who loves his family, his mother, his girlfriend, his daughter, but is still a victim of his own impulses and fate.

Also, since the movie is asked on a true story, you have to take the reality with a grain of salt. This is, after all, a movie and not a documentary. There is surely a lot of truth to be found (I am assuming), but there is also likely a good deal of tinkering for dramatic effect, condensing of facts, compromises to get the moments, ideas, feelings, scenes, on the screen in a reasonable facsimile of reality. So, I approached the movie with a touch of skepticism about the absolute truth, but was willing to accept what I saw.

The film is complex on it's simplicity, it is involving, touching, yet with an atmosphere and flow that feels very real. At the center of the story is Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan from The Wire, Friday Night Lights, Chronicle). He is a young man struggling with his life, trying to get his grocery store job back, preparing for a birthday party for his mother (Octavia Spencer from The Help), looking for a babysitter so he and his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz), can go out for New Year's, and his desire not to fall back into his drug dealing ways.

It is a very much a day in the life sort of structure. The story is simply following Oscar through his day. It is punctuated with moments showing his compassion and love for his family, but it does not shy away from the fact that he is a work in progress. He has moments of barely restrained anger, thoughts of making the quick buck with the weed he's been holding, but at every turn you see a man into on trying to make life better, not only for him, but his family as well.

Everything leads up to the fateful altercation at Fruitvale Station. It is very effective. It got me emotionally, watching as the events unfolded before me. Is this how it happened? I cannot say. It certainly seems plausible. It was a highly volatile situation that probably did not need to be. Never having experienced anything like this in my life, I really cannot imagine how I would react. What I can say is that it was like watching car wreck right in front of me, you see the inevitability of it all, you can't do anything to stop it, you want to scream, to say something, grab them by the collar, implore them to take a second for perspective, resist the urge to do what you are about to do.

The movie opens with some of the actual cell phone footage. It is interesting to see how technology has changed the world. All the phones pop up when people see what is going down. They have become something of an important device in exposing incidents like this, getting people to see what happened. Still, it is important to retain perspective as it can sometimes be lost in the small frame of a cell phone camera.

I think it is also interesting to see how society has changed. I am not really commenting on this particular incident, so much as just general thoughts. It seems to my uneducated eye that society is developing more and more of an us versus them mentality. Police are immediately on edge, taking an overly aggressive stance, while those on the other side of the badge immediately take on an attitude that they are out to get them. It is a lot like politics or virtually anything these days, you are either far right or far left, regardless of what you say or feel, the middle is marginalized to the point of ineffectiveness. Of course, I am assuming those with badges are inherently good (yes, I am aware there are bad cops) and those without are not necessarily out to cause trouble. The way society is going, no one is allowed to take a second and get some much needed perspective to try and prevent tragedies like this from occurring.

I feel like I may be losing focus here. Just watch how Oscar acts during the events leading up to the shooting. Yes, he is involved in an altercation, which he did not start, he tried to duck the police at well, but he also recognizes the situation as getting out of hand. He tries to defuse an escalating situation, but because he has become part of marginalized middle, he is not going to be listened to by the police, who do more than their share of instigating, or by his friends. It is a perfect storm leading to the tragic outcome. Basically, I think everyone needs to pause, step back, and gain perspective and clarity, so much hate, ignorance, and tragedy could be avoided. Sadly, we do not seem to be headed in the right direction.

Michael B. Jordan turns in a fantastic lead performance. He does a great job portraying a man fighting his way through a crossroads in his life. He is a likable guy, who has his heart in he right place, but often seems dealt a rough hand. Just watch how he deals with the woman who wants to have a fish fry, watch him with his daughter, or with the dog. Jordan gives a balanced performance that is easy to get behind.

The movie was written and directed by Ryan Coogler. It is his debut feature and it is remarkably mature and involving. Yes, it ends on a down note, but there is something hopeful about it. It is very moving, sweet, touching, and tragic. It is an experience that is well worth seeing.

Highly Recommended.

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