'Fruitvale Station' (2013) Movie Review - Cannes Film Festival

Fruitvale Station movie review
Ariana Neal and Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station
Photo: The Weinstein Co.

Ryan Coogler's directorial debut, Fruitvale Station, is the first truly great film I've seen at this year's Cannes Film Festival. This is a story told with such honesty, heart and emotion it's an exhaustive experience trying to make it to the end without breaking down and it's all thanks to a spectacularly lean screenplay, tight direction and performances that will knock you over.

Fruitvale Station
Grade: A

Fruitvale Station"Fruitvale Station" is a The Weinstein Co. release, directed by Ryan Coogler and is rated R for some violence, language throughout and some drug use. The running time is .

The cast includes Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Ahna O'Reilly, Chad Michael Murray, Kevin Durand and Octavia Spencer.

On New Year's Day in 2009, Oscar Grant was shot in the back by arresting officers at Fruitvale Station as he was riding the BART home from a night out with friends in San Francisco. Fruitvale opens with actual footage from one of the cell phones that caught the incident in its entirety and sets a mood from the get go that you simply cannot shake. Based on a true story, Fruitvale Station recounts the 24 hours that led to that incident.

Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle) plays Oscar, an ex-convict with a young daughter (Ariana Neal) and girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz). Coogler, who directs and wrote the screenplay, doesn't attempt to paint his real-life characters as something they aren't as we're first introduced to Oscar, arguing with Sophina about the girl he was caught cheating on her with. He sweet talks her and attempts to make amends when their daughter knocks on the door, unable to sleep. Crawling in-between them, the symbol of their love is obvious and while Oscar is clearly a flawed human being, we respect the fact nothing is being hidden from us only to be cheaply revealed later in the story.

Jordan breathes life into Oscar, rough edges and all. He loves his daughter, was recently fired from his job for being late and was once a drug dealer and is within inches of going back to the life with rent just around the corner. Fruitvale is shaped around these details as Oscar prepares for his mother's (Octavia Spencer) birthday, runs an errand for his sister and helps a young woman (Ahna O'Reilly) at the grocery store he was just fired from with her first ever fish fry by calling up his Grandma Bonnie (Marjorie Shears). All the while we know he still has to make things right with Sophina and the weed in his jeans isn't going to sell itself.

For a film that's only 85 minutes long that's a lot of heft to get on the table and those are only the peripheral details, the heart of this story is in the relationships between Oscar, his little girl and Sophina. Between their group of friends and the laughter shared at his mother's birthday party, before they head out to catch the metro into town. True love, happiness and respect between characters in films is one of the hardest things for actors to get across, but watching the group Coogler has assembled you'd think these people had been friends for a lifetime.

Obviously I was impressed by Jordan, who's going to be a massive star and hopefully one that continues to remember to make films such as this once the Hollywood offers come rolling in. However, and while I know Octavia Spencer is going to get a lot of love for her performance late in this movie, and deservedly so, I hope no one forgets what Melonie Diaz does in this movie, one moment in-particular comes as she slaps her hands on her legs in anger, fear and sadness and you feel every bit of her pain. I can only hope Oscar talk swirls around this film and that everyone sees it and the neames Diaz and Jordan need to be rolling off those nomination lips.

If I had any issue with the film it would only be in a couple lines of dialogue as Sophina and Oscar drive their daughter over to her sister's so they can head out of town. But the images of her bright eyes staring up at the night sky as the streetlights appear as fireworks on the window are too beautiful to fault a couple of obvious moments of exposition. Kudos to Rachel Morrison for her work in that respect, her camerawork here is fantastic.

This is a film that paints a picture filled with rage, fear and love in bright stripes, side-by-side and manages to go from one to the other in a heartbeat with tremendous effect thanks to a truly collaborative effort.

Typically a film like this is one I believe I could watch only once given the heart-breaking nature of it all, but what Coogler and his cast and crew have done is create a portrait of life, a celebration painted in all shades. Humanity is just as ugly as it is beautiful and this is a film that realizes had they glossed over the ugliness in Oscar's life the true beauty wouldn't have been able to shine through, and it shines bright.


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  • http://www.twitter.com/GregDinskisk GregDinskisk

    I only skimmed, not wanting to know TOO much ahead of time, but I'm now a lot more excited about this!!! I'm glad you loved it!

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Mv11391/ Michael

    Awesome to hear, been really looking forward to this one. Glad to hear positives for both Jordan & Diaz. Literally, can't wait for this one.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheMovieGuru/ The Movie Guru

    What a freakin relief. I was so nervous after two less than stellar reviews, but one movie has come through. Hope you're having a great time.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Chris/ Chris

    Awesome! Can't wait to see this one! Could be a real dark horse come Oscar season.

  • http://cinemmaconfessions.com Gautam Anand

    Brad, Didn't the film feel manipulative in a sense that, first make the audiences vulnerable by portraying Oscar in positive if not good light and then strike hard by showing the tragedy that he faced.
    Secondly, I know the film is not supposed to be a documentary, but when you are basing it on real life, shouldn't both sides of the truth be shown because if the film shares only one side of the truth, as an audience I might feel misled.

    I haven't seen the movie, and there is a possibility that the above things might not bother me at all but from whatever I have read in the reviews, these are the concerns I have of the film.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      I wouldn't say it's manipulative at all. It shows actual footage from a cell phone and you don't have any context to go from at that point. You don't even know who is who in the video for that matter. Granted, I had read the background on the situation, but no, I don't think it's manipulative in the least.

      As for your second point, I have a feeling you won't feel that way once you see the film, but I'll gladly welcome the chance to discuss further once you do. Will be interesting to read your point of view.

      • http://cinemmaconfessions.com Gautam Anand

        Yup. I am looking forward to watch the film if only to see whether the movie is an honest attempt to show a tragedy or an attempt to glorify it.

        Anyways, I am getting a vibe with the film that either people are going to love it or hate it. No middle ground here. Something that happened with The Impossible last year, and Extremely Loud two years back.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Fox/ Fox

    Yesss. This was probably my most anticipated at the festival

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/kevinb/ kevinb

    So glad to read such a positive review. I live in San Francisco, and this incident was a horrific tragedy that the entire Bay Area witnessed and endured daily with news updates all the way through the trial. The description of the portrayal of Oscar Grant sounds accurate and in keeping with news reports about him. Your quote "Humanity is just as ugly as it is beautiful" speaks volumes. Let the healing continue with this film !

  • http://letterboxd.com/ragingtaxidrver/ RagingTaxiDriver

    Yay! Really looking forward to this one.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Corbin/ Corbin

    Nice nice! It's great that you have this opinion about the movie. Really looking forward to it.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Art/ Art

    Sounds good, definitely catches my interest. Variety is the only one with the rotten score thus far complaining about the positive portrayal of the subject.

  • http://www.criterion.com/my_criterion/27913-criterion10 Criterion10

    Wow, quite an impressive review. I wasn't too sure how to feel about this film when I first heard about it, but it seems as though it could be excellent. I've certainly added this one to my radar now.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/HelloKitty/ Hello Kitty

    An A from Brad. Say it itsn't so.

  • http://couchpotatodigest.blogspot.com Matt

    Very good news. The trailer didn't really impress me, but the positive buzz from Sundance and Cannes has me excited. Great review, I look forward to checking the film out in a few months.

  • Shane Filmrehab

    Boom. I've been waiting for you to review this one. It's probably sitting in my top 5 most anticipated for the rest of the year just because I'm really thinking Jordan is going to be a huge star. Glad you share that sentiment.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Hudsucker/ Hudsucker

    Great review Brad.

  • http://www.fairytalepictures.wordpress.com Satu

    I loved the review and apparently you loved the film. Can't wait to see it.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/dolancoleslaw/ dolancoleslaw

    Incredible, incredible film. Being a Bay Area native and getting off the Fruitvale Bart station periodically, Fruitvale Station definitely hit me emotionally.

    You definitely go into this film fearing it'd be one-sided or too overly sentimental, but Coogan avoids that. I just can't get over the last shot (which I won't spoil) but it's an incredible scene. I really hope Melonie Diaz gets some recognition with this film.

  • Haslyn Roberts

    I saw fruitvale about 2 months ago at a private screening. The film is very good, but the intense matter of the film will certainly make it difficult for the film to get any oscar nominations.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/goviralwrites/ tulip tromper

    I watched the trailer with the cell phone footage and without having yet seen the film, I can understand what a smart choice that was. I don't think it is manipulating, as Brad says, you don't have any context and don't know who the people are. What was so striking to me about this brutal footage, is the stance of the officers and the passive position of the boys. The comments of the crowd and the execution of a man who is face down, held down by a boot to his head. The depth of racism is exacted through these systemic abuses of power. Presenting the victim as a person breaks down the us and them paradigm (and I don't mean black and white, but more powerful and powerless).

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Jules/ Jules

      Well said, 'tulip tromper'. I just wonder if there will be a film showing what it was like for the young officer who killed Oscar Grant. The officer's baby was born the next day. This absolutely was not how he thought his work day was going to end, either. He was shocked that he had actually shot Oscar, and that is on video as well. And the reason I say this is that it is not entirely accurate in my hometown (Oakland) to call the police the ones with power and the Oscar Grant's the 'powerless'. The officers are most often in a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' situation there. Did you ever see the tv show 'The Wire'? Did your street cop really seem like they had all the power? In reality, the BART officer was most likely nervous as hell due to 1) Working in Fruitvale 2) Dealing with all the yelling and video-taping that was going on that night. That's why he shot Oscar: he's inexperienced and nervous as sh*t and accidentally hit the trigger. It's a tragedy for everyone concerned. My hometown is a mess, and the police officers, for the most part, are nuts for even taking a job in a town like that.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/jpcoleman7/ jpcoleman7

    Just saw Fruitvale Station and it was amazing. It's the most emotional movie I've seen since End Of Watch. There is something great about a movie that can make you care so much about a group of characters and really go on a journey. I left the theater with so many feelings and questions about life in my head. It's hard to put into words. To me, those are the best films; the ones that never leave you.

  • Zeke Fisher

    This is such crap. Fruitvale is anti-white propoganda film (following other 2013 films like The Butler and 42) and complete false. Oscar Grant didn't care for any dying pitbull. Oscar Grant didn't throw his drugs into a lake. This film was crap. Apparently, good saintly Oscar Grant was murdered by the evil and racist police. They don't even mention all the crimes he was involved in like dealing drugs and owning an illegal firearm (which implies he used the firearm to hurt and threaten people in his drug business). It also claims that an evil white guy started the fight (not true) before Grant was shot by the evil white cops, even though there's absolutely no reason for the cops to murder a man in front of dozens of witnesses. The cop said "I'm gonna taze him" but the movie omits that line. Nor was Oscar handcuffed when he was shot. Nor did Oscar, a violent criminal, have friendly conversations with white people at the store that he works, on the subway, or while waiting for his girlfriend to get back from the bathroom. Stop buying into this crap. The cop who shot him was doing his job. If Grant didn't want to get shot, he shouldn't have been a drug dealer, he shouldn't have abandoned his daughter to go out drinking, he shouldn't have started a fight on the train, he shouldn't have ignored the officers' orders, he shouldn't have struggled when the officers tried to arrest him, and he shouldn't have tried to reach for his wasteband. No matter what the movie says, Grant was not a saint nor was the officer a horrible racist monster. Grant was nothing more than a thug and the world is better off with him dead

    • Zeke Fisher

      Kyle Smith of Forbes wrote an excellent article on why this film is nothing more than thinly veiled propoganda. Ryan Coogler should be sued for libel.