The tragic retelling of Oscar Grant III's murder at the hands of San Francisco transit police is as timely as it is gut wrenching. The Ryan Coogler directed film works to establish a true face to the man yet works to balance out who he truly was. Never making Oscar out to be an angel or a saint, Coogler gives a real look at what the likely day to day is for a 22 year kid in Oakland trying to turn his life around. The film starts out with showing actual cell phone footage of the shooting of Grant. Setting the tone for what to expect in the final act. It had been a while since I'd seen the footage and the moment the gunshot happens I could feel my sadness arise. The footage played powerfully for anyone, but especially those who don't believe things like this happen. From there we are launched into the days before the shooting and we get a fresh look at Oscar's life. We see the relationship that Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) has with his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz). Their relationship is rocky at best with assertions of Oscar's infidelity and his selling and using of marijuana. Further establishing Oscar is no saint, but rather a guy who just can't get himself on the right path.
The film works to make sure as a viewer you know the entirety of who Oscar is and who he is working to become. As the day goes on we see this beautiful transformation in him. We've all had those moments of silence when the light just clicks on. For Oscar, the selling of drugs had no more appeal and getting a legitimate full time job and being a fully present family man was his goal. The change was gradual and never felt like it was hitting you over the head. As Oscar goes on we see flashbacks of his rougher days and more establishment that he is just a young man with faults. I've never seen a movie work so hard to kill any possible talk about false sainthood of a character except possibly Spike Lee's Malcolm X. Its a refreshing thing to see in light of the controversial events that happen in the film. The film is 90 minutes and the first 60 are devoted to getting to know Oscar and watching him grow and change. The last 30 minutes is completely dedicated to the events of the shooting and the turmoil that it puts his friends and family though. During the final 30 minutes I've never been so emotionally hijacked while watching a movie. Director Ryan Coogler does an amazing job in establishing and sustain a level of tension and grief throughout that latter third.
The film is a testament to what a young director can do when given material he really cares about. Coogler's passion can easily be seen in the way scenes are shot, and the intensity in which the actors are directed; this was clearly no walk in the park. The fantastic cast headed by Michael B. Jordan as Oscar was full of understated moments of real emotion. Jordan did stellar work to bring the victim's story to light. Showing the dark and light sides of who Oscar Grant III truly was. Melonie Diaz who played Sophina stood out as a beacon to Oscar's wayward ship. Diaz fit so well into this cast that at times you forget that any of them are even acting. Last but certainly not least, Octavia Spencer played the role of Wanda Grant, Oscar's mother. In what I believe is the most powerful performance, Spencer shined. Moments that seems so real that I can't imagine they weren't ad-libbed to a degree. Spencer's performance at times felt like the outpouring of a mother that I've known forever. Her work here should net her an Oscar nomination at a minimum. The rest of the cast was more than serviceable and took nothing away from the film. At the end of the day the film is highly important for many reasons. The sociopolitical times that we are living in makes this movie rise to the top, but the performances, cinematography, and fantastic direction make it truly a piece to see on screen. PLEASE go see Fruitvale Station.
[easyreview title= "Review of Fruitvale Station" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="5.0" overall= false]