A grave social injustice is brought to life in an electrifying and stirring fashion in director Ryan Coogler’s powerful debut feature film Fruitvale Station – or Fruitcake Station, according to the iPhone’s autocorrect tool. Having been lauded with heaps of praise from critics and general audiences since its premiere at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, this film is, in this blogger’s opinion, arguably the greatest American film released in 2013.
The majority of Fruitvale Station, regrettably based on actual events, follows a young black man named Oscar Grant, who lives with his girlfriend and young daughter in Hayward, California. The film takes place on the final day of Oscar’s life and chronicles the events leading up to his death of New Year’s Day of 2009. One of the film’s greatest strengths is perfectly capturing the mundaneness of Oscar’s day to day routine, in contrast to the monumental turn of events that awaits him later on. He goes grocery shopping, drops his daughter off at preschool, fills his car up with gas, etc. Things don’t start going really wrong for him and his crew until the final 25 minutes of the film.
Another one of the film’s strongest assets is the acting. Newcomer Michael B. Jordan gets the lead role as Oscar Grant, and while few people can attest to the real life authenticity of his performance, there’s little doubt of his talent as a dramatist, and with this role he gives a star-making turn, creating a strong balance between a well-meaning but misguided sense of confidence, and genuine vulnerability. The supporting players also do their part to add to the dramatic heft of the story, with Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (who also co-produced the film) portraying Oscar’s mother, and Melonie Diaz providing a nice foil for Jordan as Grant’s devoted girlfriend.
Overall, Fruitvale Station is a really terrific piece of work. While the proceedings might prove to be too heavy or hard to deal with for some viewers, those able to stomach the events depicted in the film should most certainly give it a look. It fits right in line with previous meditations on modern race culture in America like Do the Right Thing and Boyz n the Hood, and is likely to remain one of the most memorable and just flat out best films of the its release year, due to its skillful realization, devastating emotional impact, and its sense of moral and social urgency.