Fruitvale Station (2013) *****
Dir. Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Ariana Neal, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray, Ahna O'Reilly
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Fruitvale Station proved to me that I'm not crazy about trying to see movies without knowing about them (to the extent it's even possible in our hype-saturated world). Even as I write this after being alternately battered and caressed by one of the most moving and devastating contemporary films currently on screen, I still have not read any interviews, puff pieces or reviews nor seen any of the trailers. I know I'd have still loved this movie, but going in with no prior information yielded an extremely pure and raw movie-going experience.
The movie is infused with considerable gravity and hammers home the fact that we all live in a Police State within our supposedly democratic North American existence. There can be no denying or escaping this fact. Witness the appalling verdict in the recent trial involving the gated-community-dwelling vigilante or, if you must, a "concerned citizen" infused, no-doubt, with redneck values who, whilst carrying a loaded, ready-to-fire gun, fatally shot the innocent Trayvon Martin. Witness peaceful demonstrations against corporate greed that are either ignored by the bought-and-paid-for mainstream media and/or met with the violence of police thugs. Even upon the supposedly complacent Canadian landscape we all witnessed a prominent politician going scotfree after running down a cyclist and we recently shuddered while watching the cel phone footage of a trigger-happy Toronto cop emptying his revolver into a clearly disturbed young man who stood ALONE in an EMPTY streetcar, armed with only a 3-inch boxcutter - a young man crying for help, not bullets.
The movie humanizes the disenfranchised in ways that allow us to see pieces of ourselves in those less blessed and acknowledges how we're all equal in the eyes of the Universe. Sadly, it also firmly establishes just how alive and well racism is in North America - especially in the seemingly endless and repeated statistics proving that cops continue to commit racially motivated (and/or class-related) murder - no matter how slanted and/or fudged the stats are to protect the guilty (our protectors, lawmakers, lawgivers, corporate rulers and politicians).
Finally, Fruitvale Station proves just how sacred an artistic medium cinema is and how it can provide a lot of entertainment value AND social commentary - without robots and Godzilla-like monsters pulverizing each other or mindless superhero antics for no other reason than to profit from both propaganda and violence.
Thankfully that horrendous title card "based on a true story" does not open Fruitvale Station, but instead we get a shaky, murky cel phone video wherein a group of young men are rousted by the police on a subway platform. The film then jumps to a point that's clearly from the past and we begin a powerful and moving - almost Neo-realist tale - of a young man who's made more than his fair share of mistakes during the first 22 years of his life, but then experiences an epiphanous moment in the early morning in which he knows what path he wants and needs to take.
The simplicity of the tale is what yields such remarkable emotional and thematic layers. Following this young man (Michael B. Jordan) as he begins to fulfill his potential as a life partner to the woman he loves (Melonie Diaz), a father to his sprightly daughter (Ariana Neal) and a son worthy of the love bestowed upon him by his Mother (Octavia Spencer) is, at least in recent memory, quite unparalleled. What we see is a turning point in his life amidst all the things that society throws in the way to thwart this gigantic change in his life.
Fruitvale Station is tremendously moving and inspiring as it depicts one day in his life. Set on New Year's Eve and also the night of his Mom's birthday we see him prepare for the party but also face the conflicts and hardships of poverty. As the film inches ever closer to the New Year celebrations, we sense both joy and portent.
By the picture's end, I indeed realized I knew about the actual "true story" - the senseless murder of Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old African-American who, on New Year's Day 2009 was beaten, handcuffed, then shot by racist cops (Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray).
Director Ryan Coogler doesn't pull any punches and there isn't a second of this movie that feels false, forced or contrived. If, by picture's end, you aren't quaking in your seat - wracked with shock and sobs - I feel sorry for you.
Most of all, I feel sorry for humanity. Fruitvale Station is proof positive of life's infinite mystery, wonder, joy and sorrow. We are all better for the fact that this picture exists, but mostly, that it sheds light on how one man's existence (and indeed all humanity's) touched and continues to touch the lives of all others.
"Fruitvale Station" is in theatrical release via E-One.