Fruitvale Station, this past Sundance Film Festival, became the fourth film and only the second African-American film to win both the coveted Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for a Dramatic Film in Sundance's 29 year history (The other films to do so are Three Seasons in 1999, Quinceanera in 2006, and Precious back in 2009). So it takes a truly special film to pull off a feat such as this.
Fruitvale Station tells the gripping and heartbreaking story about 22 years old Oscar Grant's final day alive on New Year’s Day. What makes this story that much more emotional is that the audience already knows Oscar's impending doom as he goes throughout his day, so that makes each moment that much more precious because we know that this will be the last time he is with the people he cares about the most.
What I truly love about Fruitvale Station as a film is that it does not become an activist film or overtly preachy on the injustice that was done to this young black man, and it would be easy for everyone involved to want to do so (especially with history repeating itself in the case of Trayvon Martin). Instead, the director, Ryan Coogler decides to just tell a story about a man, with all of his flaws, trying to be a better man for his mother, his girlfriend, and most importantly his daughter. The only slight problem I have with the film is its constant reminder or foreshadowing of Oscar's fate of which will become very obvious to you once you see the film. However, it will not bother most audiences and may in fact do the opposite. These moments of foreshadowing allow the audience to sympathize with all the characters that will be affected by this tragedy.
Ryan Coogler, in his debut as a director, used a simple yet detailed brush in painting the story he wanted to tell to great effect. Each scene feels so intimate and sharply directed that the audience has no choice but to feel for the characters in the film.
The entire crew for the film also aided in making this film as moving as it is. The cinematography by Rachel Morris and editing by Claudia Castello and Michael P. Shawver give a sort of one- two punch. The pacing for film up until the climax is very relaxed allowing for the emotional connections between the characters and the audience to the characters to take root. Then in the climax the film changes. It becomes grittier and pacing picks up dramatically bringing the audience to its emotional apex and then shattering them. It is brilliant filmmaking and a great for everyone involved.
Now to the actors. Michael B. Jordan who plays Oscar, Melonie Diaz who plays his girlfriend, Sophina, and Octavia Spencer who plays Oscars mother, Wanda all deserved to be nominated for award after award for their work in this film. With these actors in these roles, it didn't seem like I was watching a film but real life happening before my eyes. The true revelation for me is Melonie Diaz, whom I have seen in previous films but not with this kind of material where she can really show the type of talent she has. I already know that Michael B. Jordan is great because of his work my favorite TV series, Friday Night Lights, and Octavia Spencer proved how talented she was to the world when she took home an Academy Award for The Help, but it is Melonie who affected me the most with her performance in the final and most emotionally heart wrenching final minutes of the film. I truly hope I get to see more of her in the future.
As a whole Fruitvale Station will and should be a major contender for awards season this winter, but even more than that Fruitvale Station is a classic in the same way films like Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing and John Singleton's Boyz in the Hood are. Fruitvale Station provides a look at the complicated and conflicted problems that African Americans face in this country. A
Fruitvale Station opened nationwide yesterday, July 26. Check out the trailer.