Fruitvale Station

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Director: Ryan Cooglar.
Screenplay: Ryan Cooglar.
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Ariana Neal, Ahna O’Reilly, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray, Keenan Cooglar, Marjorie Crump-Shears, Trestin George, Joey Oglesby.

I’m good, I’m good, I’m gonna be good“.

I have to admit that the true events that took place involving Oscar Grant on December 31st, 2009, weren’t all that familiar to me. I have vague memories of hearing something but there wasn’t very much UK media coverage about this day. As a result, I went into this film rather blind and for those that find themselves in the same situation as myself, I’d advise that they leave it that way. It makes the story all the more effective and hard-hitting but even if you are aware of this man and what happened, there’s still no denying how raw and effecting this film truly is.

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22 year-old, Bay Area resident, Oscar Grant (Michael B.Jordan) has a bit of colourful past but he wants to change, so that he can be a better son to his mother (Octavia Spencer), a better partner to his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) and, most importantly, a better father to his young daughter (Ariana Neal). However he hard he tries, though, his fate isn’t always in his own hands.

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In the event of giving away too many details, I’ll try to avoid spoilers where I can here. I’m sure that by now, most people will be aware of how the events played out, either by reading others’ reviews or being aware of it first hand but it’s not my intention to reveal anything for those that are still in the dark. As previously mentioned, I knew very little about the story other than coming across some highly rated reviews (which I largely avoided) and that the film won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. These were enough to know that I had to check the film out. I’m really glad I did, but it also left me speechless. When the end credits were rolling, I sat in silence with the emotional weight almost too heavy to bare.

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This is a heartfelt and harrowing story that benefits all the more from first time director Ryan Cooglar’s documentary like approach. There is a heavy sense of realism and the largely unknown cast, deliver fantastic performances. The real standout is, of course, a towering lead performance by Michael B. Jordan. The only time I’ve seen this actor was in 2012’s impressive found-footage film “Chronicle” but after this, I’m certain we’ll be seeing a lot more of him. This young actor is a real talent and he brings the requisite heart and commitment to portraying Oscar Grant. He makes sure that we empathise with his character – despite his personal flaws – and maintains the balance of a story that could easily have fell too far into sentiment or manipulation. Oscar Grant was a family man but he was by no means perfect. He struggled to provide for his family and had served time in prison for drug dealing, as well as possessing a temper that would often get him in trouble. Despite these failings, his heart always seemed in the right place and Jordan displays a whole myriad of emotions to capture this flawed individual striving for a better life. Will Jordan be remembered when the Academy Award nominations are handed out? Probably not, but I certainly wouldn’t complain if he did feature. He delivers one of the performances of the year here.

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With all this in mind, it would seem that this is a downbeat and depressing film. It’s not. For the most part, we are given an intimate glimpse into this man’s life and there are many positives to be taken from it. The approach is naturalistic and never comes across as intrusive or with a heavy heart. That is… until the devastatingly, visceral and emotional finale.

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With a solid, multi-dimensional, leading performance that’s reminiscent of a young Denzel Washington, Michael B. Jordan will not go unrecognised. Nor will the very talented writer-director Ryan Cooglar who, in his debut, delivers one the best and most harrowing films of 2013.

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Mark Walker

Trivia: Besides Octavia Spencer another Oscar-winning actor, Forest Whitaker was instrumental as the film’s producer in getting it off the ground. He became a very early supporter of writer/director Ryan Coogler after seeing his film work in college.

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75 Responses to “Fruitvale Station”

  1. Rock solid review Mark! We talked a little about my gripes with the film. I want to talk about something I really liked – Jordan’s performance. Really, really strong work by the young man. I’m with you, I think this solidified his future.

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    • Cheers bro! Couldn’t agree more on Jordan. I thought he was sublime. I’ve yet to catch up with some of the major acting contenders for the Oscars but I’d love to see Jordan get a shout for his his work here. Octavia Spencer as his mother was also outstanding.

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  2. Stellar review man. Looking forward to this one, don’t actually know when this one properly hits over here although I have seen it cropping up every now and again on blogs. Looks like Jordan really nails it.

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  3. Yet another incredibly positive review. I hope I like it as much as you do.

    And I’m irritated I haven’t been able to rent it yet. And that I missed it in the theaters. 😦

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    • I found it very difficult not to like, man. It takes it’s time and allows you to form a bond before really hitting you about the head. Powerful stuff.

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      • Sounds like a similar reaction to most everyone else’s. I’ll try to continue being patient. πŸ˜‰

        On an unrelated note, I never got around to participating in the De Niro blogathon. Is it closed? Are there movies unreviewed?

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      • The DeNiro Blogathon is still open, man. Tyson had a few internet connection problems as well as the new baby a it was put in hold for a bit. I’ve got one still to post and I think Tyson has a couple. Leave it with me and I’ll find out what’s still available.

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      • Cool. Let me know.

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  4. Solid review, this one seems to have slipped under my radar but I’m now curious.

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  5. This is not my type of movie – so I’ll take your word for it, Muckers.

    Boat Drinks!

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  6. On my must-see list, Mark. Fine review, my friend.

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  7. Read a review about this film on Ruth’s site. When you two agree, it’s got to be good πŸ˜‰ Nice post.

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  8. High praise buddy. Have kept my eye on this one since it broke out of Sundance last year. Excellent review Mark!

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    • High praise indeed, my man. It deserves it. I absolutely loved this film but it left me feeling quite devastated. I’ve not felt that way from a film in quite a while. Thanks bud!

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  9. Hey Mark, solid review (the bits that I read, I didn’t want to spoil anything for myself). I honestly didn’t know this was based on something that happened, and that piques my interest. I keep hearing great things about it, so I have been on the lookout!

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    • Thanks Zoe. This review is spoiler free. I tried my best to stay clear of any details that would ruin the film for anyone, so feel free to read on. Still, it’s probably best that you keep clear of all the details of the film until you see it for yourself. It’ll be far more powerful that way. Not that it still wouldn’t if you did know the story. Such a great film.!

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      • Alright, I am bookmarking this and then coming back to it the moment that I have watched it. I have faith that you haven’t added spoilers, but I have read NO reviews at all, just the opinions, I would like to see what it is on my own terms. I have zero idea what it is about, so taking your advice and going in blind.

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      • That’s the wisest move. πŸ™‚

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  10. GREAT review Mark, you managed to give a spoiler-free review which I appreciate! I actually listened to an interview on MPR about this film (it might be w/ the writer) and he explained in great detail about the ending 😦 I guess I’m still curious to check it out for the performances at some point.

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  11. Nice review, Mark. I thought the movie was decent, though there’s certainly some good performances here. πŸ™‚

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  12. I was in the middle of a personal crisis, trying to watch this movie so I couldn’t focus all the way through. I do remember some poignant moments, but not the entire thing. However this review convinced me it’s worth another shot. Nice one…

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  13. Thomas Priday Says:

    Long time no speak Mark!

    Glad you (along with many others) liked this movie. I haven’t seen it yet but I’m definitely going to soon.

    How’s everything, by the way?

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    • Hey Thomas! Yeah, man, long time no speak. It’s hard to keep up with all this blogging stuff sometimes. Just chipping away when I can. How’s yourself? You’ve been fairly quiet these days.

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      • Thomas Priday Says:

        Ha, I know exactly what you mean.

        I’m at uni now so I’ve not found a lot of time to blog (although I’m hoping to change that). Things are going well though. Glad to hear they are for you too!

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      • Yeah, I hear you man. I get swamped with all sorts of personal stuff that blogging does need to take a back on occasion. I feel that as long as you don’t put too much pressure on delivering, it gets a bit easier. Hope to see you back soon πŸ™‚

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  14. I didn’t realize Michael Jordan was in Chronicle! Thanks for pointing it out. I agree completely about his performnce. It’s excellent. You really can’t imagine that this isn’t a documentary, that he’s actually an actor.

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    • Yeah, I’m not that familiar with Jordan apart from Chronicle but in this movie he’s something else completely. Totally agree that it’s hard to imagine that he wasn’t the real person here. Great performance.

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  15. Nice review. I keep hearing great things about Fruitvale Station and regret I missed it in theaters.

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  16. It’s a heart-breaking flick that’s only made worse by the fact that this actually occurred, and nobody has yet still to be punished for their wrong-doings. Terrible, terrible stuff. Good review Mark.

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    • Thanks a lot Dan. The nature of the story is absolutely shocking and very frustrating and upsetting that justice hasn’t been done. The film completely took me aback. It was excellent!

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  17. I’m hoping to get to see this. It’s had such excellent reviews from the blogging community.

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  18. Great review man. This was one of my absolute favourites of the year. And Michael B. Jordan’s performance was easily the best I have seen over the last 12 months. Like you, I had to sort of sit for a little as the credits rolled, just to compose myself after what I had seen.

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    • Cheers Tim. It certainly sounds like this film had the same effect on us both. Sobering stuff and I’d be very happy to Jordan’s name included amongst the Oscar nominees this year. He deserves some recognition for his work here.

      By the way, I’ll be drafting up your DeNiro Blogathon post to go out tomorrow or Friday. Thanks man!

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  19. Popcorn Nights Says:

    Nice review Mark. This is on locally near me in the next month or so and I hope to catch it. Sounds really good and I noticed a few people had it in their “best of 2013” lists.

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  20. A fine write-up. Weirdly enough I not heard of this film, need to be on the lookout for it. Have you ever heard of the show Friday Night Lights? Michael B. Jordan was a main character in the later seasons.

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    • Definitely seek it out Chris. It’s a marvellous film. I have heard if Friday Nights Lights and knew Jordan was involved but I’ve never seen it. He was also in The Wire but I’ve yet to finish that as well.

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  21. I wish I liked it more. I found the dog scene to be a cheap exploitative, awful, sentimental shot and from then on I just couldn’t get into movie. I thought the whole film was stretched out to feed off big story instead of doing something meaningful based on it.

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    • I do agree that the scene with the dog is quite manipulative and exploitative and there was just a tad too much love going on between everyone at times but I managed to overlook these slight hiccups and appreciate the overall character driven piece. The performances and delivery were authentic enough for me to swept up in the story. By the end, I was devastated and few films have had that impact on me of late.

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  22. Lovely review. I didn’t like it as much as you, but it was still very good. I did find the dog scene to be completely unnecessary though.
    Solid work by all the actors, especially Diaz.

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    • Thanks! I agree on the dog scene, as many people seem to. It could have been completely omitted without affecting the overall story. It’s inclusion only served to manipulate the audience a bit when that was entirely unnecessary.

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  23. This is definitely going to be my top 10 of the year! Embarrassingly enough, I’m from the states, and I had never heard about this case prior to the film. After doing a lot of digging, I was mortified. I’m really impressed with what Ryan Coogler did with this film and how he presented the story. Great review here!

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    • Thanks Courtney. I too was very impressed with Coogar’s approach to this devastating story and Michael B Jordan done an exceptional job portraying the man. Wonderful, wonderful film, that really took me by surprise. One of my favourites of the year too.

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  24. I had some issues with the movie (sometimes feeling a bit manipulative compared to the real events), but the punch at the end when the mother and daughter are together was very hard to watch and hit me hard.

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