Uplifting. Crushing. Touching. Devastating. I recently watched the 2013 Sundance Film Festival winner, Fruitvale Station. As I sat in the stunned silence of the theatre as the credits rolled; tears streaming down my face, I knew it would be awhile before I could put into words what I had just participated in. I deliberately say "participated," as opposed to "witnessed" or "viewed." First time writer and director, Ryan Coogler has done an unbelievable job of bringing the viewer along on a day-in-the-life of his main character.
It's not just any day though. This is the last day in the life of Oscar Grant III, the real-life young, unarmed, Oakland resident who was shot by a uniformed transit police officer on New Year's Day, 2009. And while the facts of the headlines, themselves, should be enough to reduce anyone to tears - and in many cases do - it is when the viewer comes to know Oscar as a real person that the horror of the event becomes real.
And how does Coogler achieve this? In an 89 minute film, Coogler paints the most 3D portrait of a film character that I can remember. Oscar has his demons, for sure: a drug past, and a volatile temper, to begin with. And yet, he is also portrayed as a loving father, friend, son, brother, and partner. In his own words, he is "trying to start off fresh, but it's not working out." Conversations can be had about this very point. Is the loss of this life any different than the innocent loss of any life - say, if the protagonist is not such a likable character? I'm not sure what my emotional response would be, had I not become so invested in Oscar as a loving young man trying to get his life on track. As I came to know Oscar in Fruitvale, I came to like him. His relationships mattered to me. And I wept for the loss that all those characters endured, and continue to experience.
Much has been written about the brilliance of Michael B. Jordan's portrayal of Oscar. I have long been a fan of this young actor, and was cognizant of his amazing talent when he starred as quarterback Vince Howard on Friday Night Lights (ahh, FNL - I'm still in withdrawal). The facial acting Jordan performed in the many confrontations with Coach and others, has been further developed in Fruitvale. This talent should definitely be rewarded come Oscar time. A superb supporting cast rounds out the production.
It's not easy, but a film that needs to be seen. I'd love to hear your thoughts.