After what felt like an eternity of mediocre movies in theatres (or the dull period of special-effects ridden Blockbuster flicks that affects us every summer), I was graced with the privilege of witnessing, because watching is too passive a verb for this particular film, Fruitvale Station. My highest regards to Ryan Coogler on his FIRST feature-length film, but certainly not his last. The movie won the two top prizes at Sundance Film Festival, and it was certainly not without merit.
Primarly, Fruitvale reassured me of the power of art. This director took it upon himself to tell a true, important story in the most honest way possible. This is not a point-of-view skewed by the sensationalist media or by despicable practices of yellow journalism. Coogler’s art has a purpose: to make known the innocent man behind an avoidable tragedy.
Coogler does not make it about race or politics, although race was more than likely a factor in the way Oscar Grant and his three friends were treated (note: this differs greatly, in my mind, from other cases, say, the Zimmerman case, which I do NOT believe was a primarily a question of race. It is important to note these situations on a case-by-case basis). Coogler instead opts to shed light on Grant’s life, as a whole human being, flaws and all.
He portrays Grant as many things–a convict seeking redemption, a drug-dealer bent on changing his ways (and I mean really bent–throwing out an amount of dope that might have covered his rent that month, even after being out of work for two weeks), a young father who not only stuck around but assumed a positive, active role in his four-year-old daughter’s life, a loving son (the movie occurs on his mother’s birthday, for which Grant and his family gather to celebrate), and an overall damn good human being.
Every minute of the film is heart-wrenching, if mainly because of its looming conclusion. Coogler brilliantly begins the film with live footage of the incident, recorded on camera phones by nearby witnesses. The clip is enraging and an unfortunate, irresponsible example of police brutality resulting in unnecessary loss of life. This sort of behavior from individuals of authority raises questions, and it does not aid the declining image of the police force (unfairly, because it only takes one bad cop to taint the image of ten good ones).
The film crescendoed through the last day of Grant’s life, New Year’s Eve of 2008. Grant is shown in many situations as a shining citizen, regardless of his difficult situation–no job, low income, a child at a young age (calculating that Grant was 22 when he died with a four-year old daughter, he was 18 when she was born), all of which he handles with utmost responsibility and good intention.
Michael B. Jordan excellently portrays Grant, especially in his silent moments of reflection. I was thrilled to see Octavia Spencer in this film, as Grant’s graceful mother, a pillar of fortitude. In an article I read about the film’s production, Grant’s mother stated that she had been approached various times about the possibility of a documentary, declining them all. Something about Coogler, however, made her feel safe, and she accepted his proposal.
When the credits rolled, the theatre was silent. The air was thick with something stronger than second-hand embarrassment. It was remorse, it was flashbacks, it was deep seated sadness. It was the power of art for a greater purpose, the celebration of human life.