Starring Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer and Kevin Durand
Written & Directed by Ryan Coogler
If you’ve seen the trailer for Fruitvale Station, you’ve been severely mislead and under-sold. With a hint of sleight of hand, the trailer promises a gritty, intense drama of a tragic incident, but what we’re given is so much better, in the form of a truly engaging character exploration. What the trailer highlights is really only a small portion of the film.
What Ryan Coogler attempted and succeeded at doing was to paint a portrait of the human being that was Oscar Grant on what would be his final day (that’s not really a spoiler, this was a major national news story, it caused riots in San Francisco and Oakland). We have what we know, there was this kid, ex-con, shot and killed by a police officer, who was later found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. But now we get the amazing story of who he was. Not that it’s particularly inspirational, he’s an ex-con. But he’s working on getting his life back on track for his daughter and that’s the side we don’t see in the media circus.
And Oscar is brought to life brilliantly by Michael B. Jordan. Jordan. Jordan’s been making a solid name for himself for the past 10-12 years, with recurring roles on The Wire, Friday Night Lights, Parenthood and in last year’s exquisite yet under-seen, Chronicle. And this cements him as one of the top emerging talents. He digs deep to the emotional core of Oscar, bringing out his love for his daughter, his reverence for his mom and grandmother, his pure affection for his girlfriend. So rather than just seeing this kid go through the day up until he dies, we’ve got this broken down character who is now trying to put himself back together into the man he knows he should be. Jordan just nails it and even though you know what’s coming in the end, it doesn’t change how you feel about it.
Jordan’s performance was bolstered by a phenomenal supporting cast including Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (2011 Best Supporting Actress, The Help) as Oscar’s loving mother, and Melonie Diaz as his girlfriend. Spencer brings a level head we’ve come to expect from her dramatic work. She evokes the mindset of a mother whose love for her wayward son has taken a toll, but she still stands by him, despite his shortcomings, and her final scenes are simply heartbreaking. Diaz strikes a similar chord in the put upon girlfriend role, and really helps bring out the humanity of both her and Jordan’s character. You’re with her because, like you, you’ve grown attached to Oscar despite his faults, and she’s in him what we’ve found out about him, that he wants to and can do better.
This will definitely be one to watch come awards season, I’ll predict Film, Screenplay, Actor and Supporting Actress for at least Spencer, if not for Diaz as well.