Fruitvale Station - Blu-ray Review

'A biopic charged with emotion and sociopolitical tension'.

For anyone in the audience not aware of the factual events that Fruitvale Station is centred around, writer and director Ryan Coogler ensures that that doesn't remain the case for very long. Beginning his film with raw mobile phone footage captured by a member of the public of the real 22-year-old Oscar Grant III being shot by a police officer whilst pinned to the ground on New Year's Day 2009, Coogler sets out his stall in bold and unequivocal fashion to craft a biopic charged with emotion and sociopolitical tension.

That the director initially introduces his dramatised portrayal of Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) as a small-time drug dealer who has recently cheated on his girlfriend, the mother of his four-year-old daughter, is at first something of a surprise. But it's a wise decision by Coogler, immediately humanising his subject and grounding Oscar as an ordinary, fallible young man rather than falsely mythologising him as other writers and directors might.

So begins Coogler's recreation of the final twenty-four hours of Oscar's life. Much of what the director shows us intentionally focuses on the normality of his subject, celebrating the significant personal factors in the young man's life: his relationship with his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal), and the resolute bonds he shares with his family. That the largely everyday events play out with the story's inescapable ending looming large over them lends Fruitvale Station a palpable tension that emphasises the tragic nature of both Oscar's demise and Coogler's film.

The performance from Jordan elevates Coogler's film further, lending to his portrayal of Oscar a genuine and understated tenderness that permeates every scene. We believe in every part of Oscar that the young actor shows us, from his desperation to support his family and his determination to follow the right path after making some bad choices in the past, to the emotion and sense of injustice he feels over witnessing a stray dog he befriended minutes earlier being mown down by a careless driver. Whilst Coogler's supporting cast is consistently strong, Octavia Spencer's powerful performance as Oscar's mother Wanda is deserving of particular mention, the mother-son chemistry between her and Jordan entirely authentic and producing some of Fruitvale Station's most touching scenes.

For his inaugural feature, Coogler regularly shows directorial flair and an eye for camera angles that indicate a great deal of promise in his future career. Where Coogler's direction shines the brightest is in the final act, as the director brings matters somewhat full circle through an electrically charged and utterly captivating sequence depicting both the events of 1st January 2009 and their harrowing aftermath.

It's a shame that there are moments where the young filmmaker succumbs to the sentimental aspects of Oscar's story, over-egging proceedings sporadically with jarring scenes here and there that deliver some unnecessarily schmaltzy foreshadowing. There are also a few slo-mo shots bathed in sunlight that belong in a far less accomplished film than this. After all, Oscar Grant's story is one that speaks for itself without the need for embellishment or overstatement, something of which Coogler and Jordan in tandem convince you throughout the vast majority of Fruitvale Station's running time.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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