Director: Ryan Coogler
My Overall Rating: 5 stars out of 5
There are no surprises in Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler's debut feature-length film. The opening scene is cell phone camera footage of the actual murder of Oscar Grant III at the hands of transit police in Oakland, California, early New Year's Day 2009. So for the rest of the movie, which recounts the events of the last day of Oscar's life, we the audience know exactly what's going to happen - when, where and how. All of the devices used to portray the victim as a sympathetic character are direct and to the point - again, no surprises. Yet everything is executed perfectly.
Oscar, played by Michael B. Jordan, is an ex-con struggling to hold down a job and keep his young family together. As we follow him through his day, he reveals himself to be a decent, compassionate person despite his obvious shortcomings. All moments of warmth and joy, all glimpses of a hopeful future are clouded by what we know is coming. If you don't love Oscar and his family at the beginning of the story, you certainly do by the end. When the loss finally hits, it's devastating.
Of course, that's the whole point. Coogler, all of 27 years old himself, wanted to establish the character as something more than just a name in the news, more than a martyr. Oscar is human, a friendly man, easy to like. He is flawed, just like all of the people around him. Just like us. His death is unfair and it hurts.
Yes, go see this movie. You won't see a better one this year.
And bring Kleenex.