Michael B. Jordan’s performance in Fruitvale Station is a realistic, powerhouse portrayal of a young man shot dead by police in the Bay Area of northern California a few years ago. The independent drama is an unsettling movie to watch. Knowing the end right from the beginnings puts an unfortunate cloud over his final days. We know, in the most excruciating of ways, that his time is coming to an end. Jordan’s Oscar Grant hugs his daughter a little tighter, offers one more “I love you” to his mother and strenuously tries to overcome several obstacles to find a job.
The movie, expertly written and directed by Ryan Coogler, follows Oscar in his final preparations for New Year’s Eve. He needs to prepare for his mother’s birthday and also develop a plan to gain employment. He’s trying to break away from his criminal past, which included drug dealing, and focus on a positive lifestyle for his daughter and Sophina (Melonie Diaz).
Oscar winner Octavia Spencer plays Wanda, Oscar’s devoted mother. Her character’s love emerges in flashback scenes when Oscar was serving time. One can tell by watching Spencer’s performance that this woman is dealing with the anguish of whether to buy her son’s arguments or teach him a lesson. Her love for him is undying, and that makes his fate that much more upsetting.
The final few minutes of Oscar’s life made headlines and resulted in accusations, investigations and cries of injustice. Fruitvale Station doesn’t deal with the aftermath of his death; instead, it shows us the build-up to this tragic act of violence. We come to appreciate Oscar’s story by understanding who this man was, learning about his family’s love and his aspirations for a brighter future.
Jordan holds much of the film together, and there’s little time where he’s not a central figure on the screen. This is Oscar’s story, and Jordan grounds the performance is nothing but reality. There are no heroics or trumped-up, sentimental scenes. The script and the performance finds the power in regularity, in a father’s dedication to his daughter and love for his closest relatives.
Spencer and Diaz are equally impressive as they try to hold the family together despite their impending loss. Portraying realistic love can be difficult on screen, but these actors are pros.
Coogler is a force to be reckoned with, a man willing to take a story from the headlines and fill in the blanks so we can come to understand how the events transpired. He finds beauty and hurt in the simple actions of life before death. Fruitvale Station and Jordan deserve to be remembered … so does Oscar’s story.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
Written and directed by Ryan Coogler
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer
Running time: 85 minutes
Rated R for some violence, language throughout and some drug use