Friday, July 12, 2013
The outrageous and terrifyingly shocking images were captured on cellular phones by bystanders. One of the actual video footage powerfully opens writer/director Ryan Coogler's impressive award-winning directorial debut "Fruitvale Station" (USA 2013 | 84 min.). No matter if you are familiar with the incident (and the aftermath afterward) or if you hear about Oscar Grant for the first time, it's a heart-wrenching moment to watch. Who is Oscar Grant that the BART police officer killed senselessly? By a fictional account of Oscar Grant's last day's life, "Fruitvale Station" paints an intimate portrait of Oscar Grant as a loving father and son with a warm heart.
On New Year's Eve, reflecting on his prison time a few years back, Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) already thinks through about his New Year resolutions—he is going to give up on dealing weed, to find a job, to be a better father to his four-year-old daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal) even he already appears to be the best father you might ever see, and to be more truthful to his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz).
Even he is out of job, he has a busy day before he heads to San Francisco for the New Year's celebration. He picks up birthday card for his mom Wanda (Octavia Spencer), he enjoys the grandma Bonnie's (Marjorie Shears) delicious gumbo with his extended family, he drops off and picks up Tatiana at the kindergarten. Then he heads to San Francisco with Sophina and his friends by public transportation—BART. That leads to the terrible tragedy that we see at the beginning of the film.
It's quite clear that director Ryan Coogler intends to create an Oscar Grant character that is positive and humane. Michael B. Jordan's superb performance delivers Ryan Coogler's vision brilliantly. Oscar Grant is not just a victim of a police shooting, and he is not another troubled African-American youth who is struggling on the bottom of the society. Ryan Coogler effectively creates an Oscar Grant character that is full of love and hope, perhaps with a little hot temper. By doing so, his tragic death should be felt more deeply.
Director Ryan Coogler's approach to achieve that goal seems less subtle, even clumsy at times. For instance, the scene about a stray dog almost looks like a post-it note sticking on a picture of Oscar—"look, he cares about dogs too." A little more complexity and deeper reach into the character would have been more appreciated. That being sad, the film unfolds the story slowly but reasonably well to the climax at the BART station. Once again, we relive the horror at that tragic moment on the train platform even the episode is fully anticipated in the film.
Unfortunately, the film seems to become lost about how to end after that. The energy of building Oscar Grant's character evaporates. The film abruptly ends provoking neither sentiment nor outrage. It falls numbly flat. The film doesn't reignite the passion and rage like those shortly after Oscar Grant's death. It should have.