Words by Matt Poe
“Fruitvale Station” (2013)
Matt Poe gives a summary and rating for Netflix’s film, “Fruitvale Station,” starring Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer.
A young father decides to make life changes for the betterment of his daughter on New Year’s Eve 2008. Little does he know, it’ll be the last day of his life.
Category: Drama, Independent
Rated R for some violence, language throughout and some drug use
Starring Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer/ Written and Directed by Ryan Coogler
Welcome back to Poe’s Picks! I hope you enjoyed my first review, or in that case, lack thereof. The point of this blog is not just to sum up and review movies, but rather to entice the readers to go watch the movie or to not watch it. So please, if you do watch any of the movies listed here in this lovely blog, tell me what you think. Whether you loved the movie I hated or vice versa, I want to know your thoughts because that’s the beauty of film and art: it’s all subjective. This movie, however, I’m willing to bet you’ll love. And if not, you may want to check your pulse.
“Fruitvale Station” tells the real-life, true story of Oscar Grant III played by Michael B. Jordan in the role that launched his career. You can currently catch him in the boxing film “Creed,” a spinoff of the “Rocky” series. In the movie, Oscar is a 22-year-old man living in the Bay Area with his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz), and their daughter, Tatiana (Ariana Neal). Before any imagery takes the screen, we hear the voices of Oscar and Sophina as they discuss their New Year’s resolutions. She wants to cut carbs. He, on the other hand, wants to quit “selling trees,” a slang term for selling weed for anyone in the audience who’s over the age of 45 or isn’t familiar with the devil’s lettuce.
The first images that begin to flicker on screen aren’t that of the film but of real footage of Oscar and his friends being arrested at the Fruitvale train station, Bay Area Rapid Transport. Cell phone cameras capture the mayhem as police officers attempt to handcuff Oscar and his three friends on the station’s platform. The tension and chaos mounts and then bang—one of the officers puts a bullet in Oscar’s back.
The rest of the film follows the final day of Oscar’s life as he makes various plans for the New Year’s festivities. We witness him and Sophina bicker about the everyday struggles of people growing up in rough areas trying to make ends meet: rent, finding work and putting food on the table. We get to see Oscar interact with Tatiana as he drops her off at daycare, which is no more than an old house with “daycare” scribbled over the front door. We continue to navigate through Oscar’s day as he encounters his best friend at work, helps organize a crab dinner for his mother’s (Octavia Spencer) birthday and goes to sell a sack of weed to a buddy.
If the film sounds bleak or dull, I assure you it isn’t (I’m still working on this review thing, OK?). Jordan’s performance as Oscar is tremendous, and the main reason is because he doesn’t try to play the role with unnecessary drama or sappiness. His character is that of all people, filled with moments of good, moments of bad and the longing to make life for himself, and those around him, better. Some of the things Oscar says or does is deliberately questionable, but throughout the film, we realize he’s the type of guy you want on your side when push comes to shove. And hats off to Jordan for a stunning portrayal of Oscar.
The film is full of some great roles, but Spencer as Oscar’s mom is triumphant. Spencer is arguably better in this film compared to her Academy Award-winning role in “The Help.” She successfully plays a mom who knows her son is sometimes up to no good (as all moms do), and she loves him regardless and tries to steer him in the right direction. A flashback scene involving her and Oscar a year earlier is played out beautifully.
The final 20 minutes of the film are as powerful as any I can remember; the end result is known, but we’re still floored. We know what will happen to Oscar, but we don’t know what will become of him along the way. That’s what makes the film so special. We, as an audience, know Oscar is progressing toward his death, but he obviously doesn’t. The everyday encounters with loved ones encompass the whole film and serves as a reminder to not let those small moments go unnoticed.
Movies, for most of us, are a form of escapism; we can easily forget the world’s bullshit while sitting in the theater or streaming a movie on our laptops for two hours. But “Fruitvale” doesn’t want us to do that, and it’s hard to not parallel the film to other real-life racial killings or incidents of police brutality. The movie could easily get weighed down in the politically or racially charged aspects that surround these incidents. It doesn’t. What makes it so great is how much it shows by saying so little.
Until next time!
In Good Movies We Trust,
Matt “Roger Ebert wishes he was half the film critic I am” Poe