Fruitvale Station

July 12, 2013 at 6:40 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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Often, the problem with watching a “true story” is that you have this nagging question in your mind about what parts are true and how much license the director took.  Then, there are films like “Fruitvale Station,” whose stories transcend to a “truth” that is larger than the events they are preporting to show.  This film tells the last 24 hours in the life of Oscar Grant, the African American 22 year old who was shot by a BART police officer who claims he thought he had grabbed his taser.  The movie wisely steers clear of that controversy.  Instead, it tells the story of a man.  Through the stunning script by first time writer and director Ryan Coogler, we learn about a complicated Oscar Grant, capable of great generosity, kindness, humor and impulsivity, selfishness, anger.  This is a fully realized character who feels just as real as so  many young men I have known.  For all that is lovable about him, he lives with a deep core of anger built out of hopelessness and desperation; that anger threatens to undermine his best intentions at any minute.  This is not just Oscar Grant’s story but the story of so many young Black men in this country and seeing the world through their eyes for 90 minutes is a powerful thing.  Coogler is a stunning first time director who manages to coax nuanced, natural performances from a cast of mostly non-professionals.  Michael B Jordan (“Friday Night Lights,” “Chronicle”) is fantastic as Grant and fills the screen with such emotional complexity and honesty that he seems to live the character.  Octavia Spencer (“The Help”) is equally wonderful as Grant’s mother and is heart-wrenching to watch in the final scenes.  Nothing is wasted in this film: every scene, every facial expression, propels the story toward its horrifying end.  Coogler’s earnestness is so present throughout the film; he exploits nothing and looks for no easy answers.  His use of a score is beautifully understated and, where others might have looked to manipulate the audience with sweeping music, he gives us silence that is far far more impactful.  We are left with no answers in the end because there are none.  Officer Johannes Mehserle (who is given no name in the film or the credits) may well have been reaching for his taser.  The cops were highly anxious, the situation was escalating and everyone (the cops, the young men being questioned, the BART patrons) handled it poorly.  Perhaps, he freaked out and grabbed the wrong thing.  We’ll never know and the film doesn’t even attempt to ask the question.  Nor does it point any fingers at anyone (the cops, Oscar, society).  It simply tries to show what it’s like for some young Black men in today’s America.  And, in that sense, this film is absolutely a true story.

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