Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray, Ahna O'Reilly, Ariana Neal
Written by: Ryan Coogler
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
MPAA Rating: R for some violence, language throughout and some drug use
Running Time: 85
Date: 07/11/2013

Fruitvale Station (2013)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Heart Train

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Fruitvale Station is the debut feature by Oakland filmmaker Ryan Coogler, and it's a quietly powerful achievement of surprising beauty and subtlety. Reportedly, Coogler thoroughly researched the day's events, up to and including the incident: a cop shoots an unarmed and subdued Oscar Grant in the back. The movie shows just enough of the cops to make them monstrous, but not enough to understand their feelings or motivations. This approach stays true to the impact of the real-life footage, but has also raised some controversy.

It's New Year's Eve, and Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) has a busy day. He must try to get his grocery store job back, because, if he can't, he'll be forced to go back to dealing pot in order to pay the rent. His girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) has discovered that he's having an affair, and so he doesn't want to tell her about the job situation on top of it. On a happier note, it's his mom's birthday and he needs to buy fish so that she can make her famous gumbo for the party. Afterward, Oscar and Sophina kiss their daughter goodnight and head into San Francisco for the year-end celebrations. To avoid traffic, they decide to take the BART train. Unfortunately, this decision leads to tragedy, as Oscar's past comes back to haunt him.

However, up until this emotionally powerful, incendiary ending, Coogler presents his film as a nuanced and carefully balanced character study, filled with small, poetic moments. In this story, Oscar makes both good and bad decisions; he gets angry and he expresses love. Coogler's handling of the actors is exemplary, especially Michael B. Jordan as Oscar, and Octavia Spencer as his mom (she won an Oscar for The Help and certainly deserves another).

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