It’s funny how the bloated, overly lengthy studio blockbusters have far less impact than 90 minutes of a relatively brief, CGI-free “little” movie such as “Fruitvale Station.”
Hot on the heels of the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case, this film examines another controversial killing and its aftermath by focusing on the real life of its doomed character, Oscar Grant (played to award-winning perfection by Michael B. Jordan, “Chronicle”), who exhibits both faults and strengths, often simultaneously.
Grant was 22 when he died in 2009 at the Fruitvale Station stop of the Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, line in Oakland, Calif. The show depicts Grant’s life a few hours before he ends up on the BART. It begins with a real video that was taken on a witness's cellphone.
The movie then flashes back a few hours to show Oscar spending time with his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz, “Be Kind, Rewind”), and their daughter, Tatiana (delightful newcomer Ariana Neal). Oscar has been fired for being late, but he seeks out his former supervisor and asks for his job back.
The manager refuses. Now, Oscar, who is on parole for selling drugs, has no idea where he’ll find employment next. He desperately wants to help support his girlfriend and their 4-year old.
Oscar attends a birthday party for his mother (Octavia Spencer, “The Help”). Then he and Sophina drop Tatiana off at the home of her sister so they can go to San Francisco with a group of friends to watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks display.
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Director Ryan Coogler uses a hand-held camera to give the picture a documentary flavor. He also shows Oscar as a man who is not so much flawed or portrayed as a hero, but rather as an ordinary person. His day-to-day life gives viewers the impression that Oscar could have been anybody.
The script doesn’t so much make a statement about race — although that is certainly a major theme here — as it does about a tragedy. At the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, this movie won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize. I have the feeling those are not the only awards this compelling, well-told movie will earn for 2013.
Jordan is an actor to watch. He stars in several movies that are in development now. I think this could be the next step in a successful career for an actor who certainly has the chops to become a household name.