The best thing you'll see all month: Fruitvale Station

Title The best thing you'll see all month: Fruitvale Station
Author Tom Chick
Posted in Movie reviews
When July 29, 2013

Gertrude Stein famously said of Oakland "there's no there there". Fruitvale Station begs to differ. The movie from first-time director Ryan Coogler tells the story of an Oakland man restrained by BART police and then shot in the ensuing scuffle..

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Maybe you'll see The Wire now Tom? There are plenty of great reasons to at least watch the first season but Michael B Jordan's performance is reason enough.

After The Wire I hadn't seen him in anything and I'm happy as hell Ryan Coogler cast him here. The kid is amazing and I'm glad he's getting his due.

A second recommendation for The Wire. David Simone knows Baltimore and it seeps through every scene.

Can't wait to see this movie now that It has arrived in DC.

Yes, everyone should watch The Wire. Takes a few episodes to get into it but then it's the best thing ever.

Am glad to see one of the young Wire actors now in the lead role of a new film, and it sounds like it's one to watch.

Whoa? Michael B. Jordan is in The Wire? That makes perfect sense. I suppose now you're going to tell me Amy Ryan is in it, or something outrageous like that.

Sheesh, one of these days, I'm actually going to take that boxed DVD set down from my shelf. Honest!

The sarcasm is thick here ; )

So I'm not sure if you've seen the wire yet or not. Which if you haven't I'm sure you're sick of people telling you to see it. But fans of the wire root hard for cast alumns and Michael B Jordan is the guy most of us root for the hardest.

When David Simon got everyone back together for a final send off prior the end of the series he introduced all the cast members individually. Guess who got the biggest applause?

Not sarcastic at all. I haven't seen The Wire and I had no idea Jordan was in it. And I deserve all the guff I get for it. In fact, the folks from the forum were kind enough to chip in and buy me the boxed set, which is here on my shelf. I will watch it one day! I solemnly vow!

He's also in Chronicle, a found-footage-ish movie about teens stumbling across something that gives them superpowers and the fallout from it. He plays an enormously charming popular kid and would be class president who nonetheless has time for the little guys. Kinda reminded me of a young Denzel Washington. It's an uneven movie but I definitely liked Jordan in it a lot.

Holy shit that was him!?

Ah ok ; )

Once you start it you won't be able to quit. And knowing that MBJ is in it will make it all the sweeter.

Jordan is good in The Wire, but he's only improved since then. He was already getting better in Chronicle, and I'm told he's good in the Friday Night Lights TV series. He was excellent in Fruitvale (certainly the best thing the movie had going for it), but I'm not quite sure I'd say to someone "If you liked him in Fruitvale, you should check out The Wire!" The reverse is certainly true, but The Wire has so many other things to recommend it ahead of Jordan.

So anyway, Fruitvale Station didn't really work for me. It was beautiful and well acted (as we all agree below), but so much of the movie feels cliched and forced to try to add weight to what should be plenty weight-y on its own. Maybe the real Oscar Grant really was a kid with a good heart who had just made some bad decisions, but was trying to turn his life around, and was patching things up with his girlfriend, and had just decided to stop selling weed, and was trying to get his legit job back, and was sad that a dog was hit by a car, but yeesh, I sure couldn't help feeling they were laying it on pretty thick. And then we throw in a bunch of tragic coincidences (the girl from the grocery store, the advice from his mom about the evening, etc.) and it was just too much.

I felt like I was being manipulated into feeling something that shouldn't need any manipulation.


I agree that it was heavy-handed but it did not feel like artifice and it definitely did not feel manipulative. I could see how someone would feel that though.

While you "saw through it" or whatever I think it will be very effective for most. I have that sometimes where because I know a thing or two about a thing or two I kind of rob myself of the experience but maybe because of the true story or for whatever reason I could buy in.

Like I said in the Qt3 film pod thread, I really enjoyed the film but I am not sure it would work as a podcast. the -opsis would seem really uncouth and the usual jocular levity might make me feel... icky?

I mean, it could be good, but it would be different. Maybe it would be a good exercise.

Thanks for the comments, Wholly. I can understand where you're coming from, and I kind of disagree with ci000ci112033san when he says he didn't think it was "manipulative". Because to me, it actually was. Fruitvale Station wasn't -- as far as I could tell -- an attempt to reconstruct what actually happened on Oscar Grant's last day. It was an attempt to tailor a story about a doomed man at the brink of an important choice: move forward, or let the past drag you down. In other words, allow yourself to be a victim, or take control of your future.

Everything in the story is tailored towards that idea, from his relationship with his girlfriend, to the omen with the dog, to the advice from his mother, to the final encounter on the train, at which point he is *literally* halfway between the angel of his better nature and the demon of his past. If that's not "manipulative", I don't know what is. :) It's all a very tailored experience.

The key to me is that the manipulation is as effective as, say, a Greek tragedy with a chorus. It's part of the narrative, and it's disguised wonderfully as a naturalistic day-in-the-life story. That's why I think this has more in common with Taxi Driver than Do The Right Thing. It's a character study rather than a portrait of morale outrage.

There's no indication in Chronicle that Michael B. Jordan is anything other than a charming kid. Pretty much the only thing you can glean from that movie is that Dean Dehaan deserves better scripts. :)

I agree 100% but Tom has been frustratingly reluctant to dive into The Wire so I was just doing my part to stoke his desire ; )

Love the Stein quote at the beginning, but she relied so heavily on caricature to depict people of color (see her description of African American smiles as 'the warm broad glow of negro sunshine'). Just as Tom said, Fruitvale pushes past a simple understanding of racial tension. It complicates its characters to reveal their depth- these are not caricatures. As for the heavy-handedness of the film; isn't subject matter like this heavy by virtue of its very existence? Coogler's film is not so much a morality tale as it is a retelling of a narrative with a complex web of character interaction and emotion. He is trying to present a situation that seems to happen again and again in cities like Oakland, LA and Chicago. By giving the characters depth he makes it difficult to separate "the good" from "the evil" and thus allows the audience to question how one could prevent a situation like this from occurring again. The human element is an unstable, complex variable.

One of my favorite examples of this is how Kevin Durand, as the asshole cop with the shaved head, reacts with such heart after the shooting. The movie is setting him up as the shooter, but he immediately becomes a powerfully compassionate character as he's looking into Oscar face imploring him to "stay with me". I have no idea if that's how it happened, but it's a really powerful filmmaking choice.