Fruitvale Station (2013) Film Review, a movie directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Chad Michael Murray, Kevin Durand, Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Ahna O’Reilly, Melonie Diaz, Ariana Neal, Richie Stephens, Mahal Montoya, Jonez Cain, Joey Oglesby, Tressa Ohler, Arlene Barshinger, and Thomas Dalby.
Fruitvale Station is the best film of 2013 I have seen so far. It is not a masterpiece because its first half is composed of casual drama material but it is certainly a great film because of the raw emotion and powerful experience which the second half has to offer. When you watch Fruitvale Station it feels as real as possible as if you are re-experiencing the actual last day of the life of Oscar Grant III. You feel the love, the loss, the death of Oscar as powerfully as he and the people around him felt on the morning of 2009. This great level of engagement of the audience is due to the extraordinarily sensitive direction of Ryan Coogler, the moving performances from Michael B. Jordan (undoubtedly a rising star), Melanie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, and of course the hard-hitting true life story that stirred the world and continues to do so through this film.
Ryan Coogler directs Fruitvale Station as well as could be expected. In a true story about a character that dies in the end, a film-maker needs to answer the question: how can I make the whole film a thrilling experience from start to finish? Some directors might choose to keep the surprise of the tragedy completely unspoiled. Coogler, however, decides to thrill the viewer and present them with the understanding that tragedy is coming from the very beginning. That’s how the film opens, with actual footage of the accident. This is how the entire film is directed: quietly, unpretentiously, calmly, with simple but powerful images that convey the essential feelings of the particular moment. When Oscar and his little girl are playing it is in slow motion so that we can encapsulate every second and more of their happiness together. When a dog Oscar befriends is hit, the viewer is left to picture the image of the accident – the viewer doesn’t see the car running over the dog but the viewer hears the strike, the viewer hears the car moving off. All viewer see is Oscar’s face.
If Coogler proves something to the viewer it is that a human face reflecting a tragedy plus our own mind picturing the image of the incident is the most powerful, realistic combination in film. That’s how everything shocking is represented in Fruitvale Station and that’s why it hits so well. Coogler knows how to make it real and powerful. The script is as humane, natural, and ordinary as possible so that we can engage with the characters as much as possible before tragedy strikes. When it does, the horror of it shocks the viewer and their affection towards the characters makes us cry.
Coogler also demonstrates mastery through the simplicity and the visual power of the shots and that’s particularly visible in some of the train scenes. The image of the train drifting through the lonely railway is actually creepy with pale lights surrounding the red sky and the dark iron shapes of the train’s pathway. The most powerful image for me was when we see a flashback of Oscar and his daughter on his back and right afterwards the film cuts to the image of a blood bank being thrown in the trash. It felt like Oscar’s memory was lost, thrown away. These were simple shots but put them in the right order at the right time and you get a masterful moment, one of the many masterful moments in the second half of Fruitvale Station.
Everything in the film, every scene, whether it is a house party or Oscar getting fired from a job will eventually have an effect upon the viewer when the superb ending kicks in.
The performances in Fruitvale Station are exceptional. Michael B. Jordan will remind the viewer of Denzel Washington: he was that convincing and that great at the scene taking place at the station. The film works for Octavia Spencer as another showcase of her rare talent and it also paves the way for a promising career for Melonie Diaz who gives a sympathetic and even heart-breaking performance.
Ryan Coogler has explored that terrible day till the last second and used every bit of drama that Oscar’s final day had in order to mix it with his own directional talent. The product is Fruitvale Station: the work of a man who understands how powerful a true life tragedy is and that the best way to depict its potency is by making the viewer love the character and then hammer them with reality’s brutal unstoppable force.