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On January 1, 2009, Oscar Grant III was a man riding a subway, ringing in the new year. Withinan hour Grant would be shot in the back by a police officer; Grant was lying unarmed and facedown at Fruitvale Station. Several onlookers captured cell phone videos of the incident and thestory went viral.Fruitvale Stationchronicles the last day of Oscar Grant and what really transpired that day. The film garnered much-warranted praise at the Sundance Film Festival and its release this July coincided closely with the George Zimmerman verdict. Like the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, the death of Oscar Grant raises social issues of race, law and justice.



While Ryan Coogler’smasterful directorial and writing debut does not shy away from such issues, to watch this filmexpecting just social commentary upon social commentary would be a mistake. News and mediacoverage turned Oscar Grant into a symbol, Coogler is able to take deconstruct the symbol andflesh out the man. He presents a film constructed in objective melancholy rather than blindanger.

At the heart of Fruitvale Station is the performance from Michael B. Jordan. There must besomething in the name, because this man is destined for stardom. Some people may recognizeJordan from his extensive TV resume, notably as Wallace on The Wire and most Coach Taylorfans will remember him as Vince of Friday Night Lights fame. Jordan does not hold back inhis portrayal of Grant; he pulls out all the stops on this one.

Grant is in no way deified in the movie -- we see all the angles of him from himcheating on his wife to him losing his job and dealing drugs. In contrast, his relationship withhis daughter may be the sweetest and most heartwarming parent-child performance submittedin years. Although it may be a lofty juxtaposition, I believe that Jordan compares to Denzel Washingtonwith his ability to transition from the gentle father playing with his daughter to the severe andserious moments on the subway. Jordan nails the charismatic smile, creating a likable, butcomplicated Oscar Grant.


Any review of this movie would be utterly incomplete without mention of the performancesfrom Melonie Diaz as Sophina, Grant’s wife, and Octavia Spencer as Wanda, Grant’s mother.Many will recognize Spencer from her Oscar winning performance in The Help and I would notbe surprised if this performance helped add to her Oscar collection. Spencer provides a greatbalance to Jordan’s performance as she is able to portray Wanda as a tough-talking mother whohas a commanding presence who seemingly keeps Grant relatively in check. Finally, ArianaNeal shows incredible promise in her role of Tatiana, Grant’s daughter. The final scene of Sophina and Tatianais one of the most gut-wrenching moments in recent memory.

Of course there are some flaws with this movie: some heavy handed scenes and blatantforeshadowing feature as well. But to focus on that would be to miss Coogler’s objective. This film could haveeasily been about the consequent trial and prosecution or even just a real time film of the eventson the subway. However, Coogler chooses to focus on the little day to day things: pickingup his daughter, driving over to his mother’s house and heading out to the city to party withfriends. Coogler pays ultimate respect to the man Oscar Grant III, mirroring humanity withits complexities and contradictions. To be obsessed with whether the real-life Oscar Grantresembled at all the man that is presented in the film or whether those were the exact events ofhis last day would be to misunderstand Coogler’s intent. The movie’s main goal is to force us to remember that no matter what happens in those ninety minutes, it is going to end upwith a man lying face down with a bullet in his back.

If I had to sum up my feelings about Fruitvale Station in one sentence: it is the greatestmovie that I never want to watch again. The opening sequence is the raw footage of theshooting, immediately eliminating any possible suspense. The suspense is replaced with utterhelplessness. The audience is not allowed to imagine any other ending; we must sit in our chairsand watch in anger and horror about the inevitable tragedy. The film is strung together with anunderlying tone of this impending, unavoidable heartbreak. I am not one to cry,but this movie had me balling several times even before its conclusion. Completely ignoring thefilm’s brilliance in terms of classic cinematography criteria, it in itself is an incredible accomplishment.

Do yourself a favor and watch it.


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