Monday, July 29, 2013

Ryan Coogler's Fruitvale Station is an Emotional Story about a Young Man's Final Hours

Fruitvale Station (4 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed and Written by: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, and Octavia Spencer

There have recently been many discussions about the role race play with regard to the arrest, death for people of color, especially black young men.  Most of these conversations have come from the Trayvon Martin death, trial, and verdict.  This one case has recently represented the way in which black people are treated by the justice system.  The socially constructed paranoia of race, has intersected with crime, and there are two realities, within this paradigm.  The first is centered on privilege and the lack of opportunity for poorer people, predominantly poorer people of color to escape their societal confines.  The second is based on the stereotypes, in which men of color particularly black men are seen as antagonists.  Fruitvale Station explores both. 

On January 1st 2010, Oscar Grant was shot and killed in the Fruitvale Station BART train stop in Oakland California.  The film opens with the real cell phone footage taken from numerous passengers on the train.  After watching the footage we see Oscar (Jordan) in bed with his young girl friend Sophina (Diaz) at the beginning of what is the last day of his life.  

Throughout this last day there are glimpses of the good and flawed nature of Oscar.  Oscar is a young father who loves his daughter Tatiana; he is a loving son shopping for his mother Wanda's birthday, which is that day, and he is trying to turn over a new leaf, and no longer smoke and deal drugs.  There are flashbacks to Oscars time in prison, and the challenges for his mother and family.  There are also glimpses of anger, and his temper.  First time director/writer Ryan Coogler has created a well balanced, a heartfelt character study of a young man stuck in a position trying to do the best while struggling with all of the bad around him.

Some people are going to argue this film is one sided, but I think this a great representation of the way in which society keeps people down, and unfortunately we have to view this through the death of a young man.  Coogler's first time direction and writing, with feature films, has proven to be an incredibly successful, and impactful film.  Coogler knows how to emphasize the good, and flawed aspects of Oscar well.  The way he uses the real time text messaging helps emphasize the emotional level of the communication, and sadness for this person.  Coogler knows how to give you hope, when you know there is none.You want Oscar to succeed especially after running into the man with his pregnant wife, there is hope for work. Coogler also knows how to hit you where it hurts especially in the final scenes while the cops wrestle Oscar to the ground.  Coogler hits every emotion, and creates a brilliant character study.

This study of young Oscar could not be possible, without the brilliant performance from from Michael B. Jordan.  Jordan is such a natural in this role; he embodies every aspect of young Osc (nickname), all the way down to his smile.  Jordan played the young drug dealer Wallace in the television series The Wire, and based on an interview at Sundance, Coogler stated that the role was tailor made for Jordan.  Jordan conveys the balance between have that dark edge, and being that love able guy brilliantly. Jordan conveys this best while his mother Wanda visits him in prison.  You can't help but feel the depth in this moment.

One of the most tragic things about the story within this film is that Oscar died almost exactly on his mother's birthday.  Octavia Spencer has shed even the minute comedic shades of her role in The Help, and past acting experiences to channel the depth and love of Wanda.  Wanda is a loving mother who wants to do the best for her son; she wants him to succeed, which is the general tone of this film.  

Station is about a young flawed man, who you want to see succeed; he tries hard throughout this film film, to be the best he can be for his mother, girlfriend, and daughter, but he never gets the opportunity, which is one of the greatest aspects of this tragedy.  Fruitvale Station is a raw emotional journey that provides an broad perspective on a young man with prospects who never got to live to meet his potential.

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