Saturday, August 3, 2013

Review: Fruitvale Station


Sometimes a movie about a real event is made more relevant by a similar event happening or coming into the news again, which affects the way the movie is shown or received. So I honestly can’t say if Fruitvale Station would have quite the amount of buzz it does if the Trayvon Martin shooting hadn’t rocketed it back into the public consciousness. What I can say is that it would still be a very good, even great movie on it’s own merits.

For those of who don’t know, the plot is concerned with the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant by the Bay Area Rapid Transit Police. Opening with cell phone footage of the attack (a scene which is probably going to be my winner for ‘hardest sequence to watch’ of the year) the film delves rather decidedly into the day preceding the shooting from the POV of Oscar himself, showing him going about his day to day life before going to San Fransisco for New Years Eve and…well…

An aspect of the movie I rather like is the intense focus on Oscar, as well as how nuanced the movie tries to make him. The temptation in movies like this is to sanctify the victim, and while the movie does spend a lot of time trying to make him more relatable, it also doesn’t shy away from acknowledging or depicting the more negative aspects of his past, including his drug dealing and jail time. A lot of credit for this selling this depiction has to go to Michael B Jordon (who those of you with good taste might remember from Chronicle), as he owns the part.

The rest of the cast is working hard too, most notably (from where I’m sitting) Octavia Spencer as Oscar’s long suffering mother. Her character is slightly different from a usual character in this role and she does a great job making her work. Melonie Diaz is a little less reliable, as her character undergoes pretty major shifts from scene to scene and she occasionally has trouble navigating them. But she’s not bad, and she’s actually pretty good in certain scenes.

This is all built around a solid script, that mostly manages to keep it’s expanding cast of characters from dropping into stereotypes. I don’t know how accurate the events leading up to the shooting are depicted, but it certainly feels real enough to be going on with, which is what’s important. The direction is quite good, if not precisely visionary, and even manages to be unique in a couple places, like it’s fondness for extremely long single takes.

Okay, okay, it’s not perfect. The directorial flare is a nice touch, but a couple of long takes don’t seem to have a lot of purpose other than looking nice. The visual symbolism of using a train as ominous foreshadowing gets a tad old. I think the ending goes on for a hair too long (not the actual ending point, that’s brilliant, but some of the bits they do after the shooting take a bit too long).

Over the past couple years, there’s been a slight shift to slipping more substantial into summer releases, amongst the bigger budget movies. With most (not all, but most) of the big movies this year failing to meet any kind of expectation, it might be time to put some faith in those smaller movies again, and Fruitvale Station is one of the better ones to hit theaters in a while. It can be quite depressing, but sometimes I like to be sad. Highly recommended.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he finds it very disconcerting whenever people refer to ‘The city’ and don’t mean New York.

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