Director: Ryan Coogler
Reviewed: 16 February 2014
jamesintexas rating-- ****
Besides crafting a deeply emotional film, one that depicts the pain and joy of family up close and personal, Coogler has done something else. He's elicited a marvelous performance from Michael B. Jordan, known previously to me from The Wire, capturing Oscar's rage, kindness, ability to switch from one mode to another, and his complex heart. To play Oscar as one-note would be a mistake. As Whitman said, we "contain multitudes," and Oscar's desire to change his life may remain just that: a desire. But desire is important. Sometimes all of our actions don't make sense when put next to each other. Jordan carries the film on his back with Coogler's camera often providing over-the-shoulder shots of Oscar walking and driving and thinking. Octavia Spencer is no less spectacular as Wanda, Oscar's fiercely loving mother, and her work here proves that she is an actress to always watch. There are troubling developments in the film that linger: Oscar's angry hand placed on his grocery store boss as he demands his old job, a near-violent interaction in a prison visiting room with far-reaching implications, and the stains of an injured dog's blood on Oscar's white t-shirt as he carries it out of the road. Fruitvale Station's title, which is essentially its ending point, is emotional and unforgettable in its awfulness.
Violence arrives on the front pages of our newspapers everyday, and its effects ravage communities, families, and individuals. Coogler's film offers few answers to our national epidemic of violence, but in its close, dignified look at a complex person struggling to achieve agency, he has crafted one of the best films of the year, a film where the sight of a family uniting for a birthday dinner brought tears to my eyes just as much as the film's devastating conclusion. Fruitvale Station is a film wrongly ignored by the Academy Awards that demands to be seen and felt. There are no easy answers, though.