Fruitvale Station Movie Review
Fruitvale Station is a critically acclaimed drama about the real-life shooting of an unarmed black man by an Oakland police officer. As good as it is, the director's willingness play loose with the facts of such a recent and controversial incident is just as concerning as the incident itself.
Writer/director Ryan Coogler's film is an engrossing, heartfelt drama that follows Oscar Grant on his last day on Earth. Oscar, a former small-time criminal with a girlfriend and son, has recently been fired from his job at a grocery store, and caught cheating with another woman. Nonetheless, he's living a normal life and preparing to travel into downtown San Francisco for a New Years Eve celebration.
Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle) delivers a star-making performance as Oscar. He brings complexity to the role and does his best to paint Oscar as an imperfect but ultimately innocent man.
It's an impressive feat, especially given that Coogler does his best to paint Oscar as a saint.
Like any dramatization of real life, there are going to be exaggerations and alterations to make a story more interesting for a movie-going audience. However, the incident depicted in Fruitvale Station - which caused riots and significant publicity, especially after the police officer who killed Oscar Grant received not much more than a slap on the wrist - is so recent and fresh that one has to tread carefully.
Coogler does anything but. There's no arguing that Oscar Grant didn't deserve to die that night, but Coogler leaves out little details, like that Oscar had previously been arrested for illegal possession of a gun or that there is a real possibility that officer Johannes Mehserle was indeed reaching for his Taser instead of his pistol.
But on a purely thematic level, the most obnoxious thing about Fruitvale Station is that Coogler portrays Oscar in such a positive light that it is almost impossible not to realize what's going on. In one fabricated scene, Oscar witnesses a pit bull get hit by a car and proceeds to comfort it as it bleeds to death. How sweet. With exception to a few flashbacks that suggest how he used to be (violent, aggressive, a little foolish), Oscar is the perfect human being.
There is no reason why he needed to be for Coogler's message to come across loud and clear, and in fact his unwillingness to present a flawed character takes away from the film's lasting effect.
Fruitvale Station is a well made movie with strong performances and a sad, sobering portrayal of how one young man died for no obvious reason, but its one-sided perspective is distracting at times. Worth seeing, but it isn't the masterpiece some critics claim it to be.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.