What an astonishing feature debut for 27-year-old writer-director Ryan Coogler.
It is hard for me to believe that there are many, if any, films that will affect me as deeply as Fruitvale Station this year.
After seeing it yesterday afternoon, I am heartbroken, which means the film succeeds on all levels.
This is a pared down, realistic narrative based on the true story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old man who was murdered by a police officer in the Fuitvale Station of the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) during New Year’s Eve festivities as 2008 transitioned into 2009. It’s a true story, so this is not a spoiler, and even if it is (for a particular reader), knowing what is coming only intensifies the experience of watching what comes before.
Michael B. Jordan, whom I adored in the wonderful television series Friday Night Nights, is perfectly cast as Oscar. He brings the range of divergent emotional tones to the character that befit a young man carrying big responsibilities with few resources, a man who has made mistakes but is trying to get his life on track, a man who is not perfect but is a son and a partner and a father and a friend loved by many.
Melonie Diaz is very good in the role of Sophina, Oscar’s girlfriend and the mother of his daughter, and Octavia Spencer is a knockout in a flawless performance as his mother.
And, in the shared bond of motherhood, l unleashed tears even before Wanda (Octavia Spencer) sees her baby’s lifeless body stretched out behind a glass wall where she cannot touch him.
I wonder if Coogler was inspired by photos of Emmett Till when constructing this scene, or is that a coincidence? No matter, really, but this is an inference that comes naturally to me, one I cannot dismiss a day later while recalling the image with aching clarity.
It is impossible to consider Fruitvale Station right now and not think of Trayvon Martin. I saw the movie at the earliest matinee on a Friday, so there were few people in the audience, but I heard the whispered words “like Trayvon” and “He’s going to go George Zimmerman on him.” I heard those words, and I also thought similar phrases on my own.
I did not watch the trial, but this film speaks to a type of human experience that resides outside of the chain of evidence. It is nuanced and even graceful within its slice of life style that unfolds gently and realistically.
Just thinking of it all, I am again heartbroken.
Don’t miss the opportunity to see Fruitvale Station to put an individual face on what is a much larger cultural problem and to appreciate a powerful film on its own merits.