The most powerful films of the year are often the ones with the most lasting impact. Naturally, this differs person to person but its fair to assume the average cinemagoer felt greater empathy about Brandon’s inner conflict with sexual addictions (Shame) than they did with Chuck Norris’ push-up strength (The Expendables 2).
The former is the likely—and deservedly so—fate for Fruitvale Station, one of the best debuts of the past decade. Newcomer Ryan Coogler has directed a heartbreaking story about the horrific real events of January 1, 2009 that culminated in Oscar Grant III’s death in the early hours of the morning.
Coogler is the new wunderkind on the block and it’s not to do with the recent timing of the George Zimmerman trial for shooting an unarmed black teenager, though it is uncanny. He keeps the frame small and tight (it’s presented in 1.85:1) and wisely restrains from doing any prophetic shots as Grant leaves the station for his final night.
We’re screened one of the videos that captured the phenomenal event shortly after we’re briefly introduced to Grant and his girlfriend, Sophina, arguing over his infidelities. Through barnyard mobile video we see a cop pull his gun on a restrained black man and promptly fire a bullet into him. It is horrific, brutal work, the stuff of snuff, and serves to introduce just exactly how such an inexplicable event came to be.
Michael B. Jordan rises above the whole production in his portrayal of Grant. We’re introduced to a wisecracking black young adult who has served time and is now looking to establish himself as a responsible adult of society who genuinely cares for his baby mumma and daughter. He’s unable to regain employment at his old job and finally makes amends to put himself on the right path in quiet moments alone.
Don Delillo wrote in his 1997 novel Underworld, in context to a videotaped fictional shooting: ‘If you’ve seen the tape many times you know from the hand wave exactly when he will be hit ... You say to your wife, if you’re at home and she is there, Now here is where he gets it. You say, Janet, hurry up, this is where it happens.’ In today’s world of constant entertainment and accessibility to YouTube, watching videos on repeat is a very real thing. As with the act of repeating anything, after a while it will lose the initial impact and turn into a series of dots joined together through glue you’ve long deciphered.
Fruitvale Station is the tale behind a very real video that would otherwise go ignored by the greater populace. It humanises these blunt pixels and creates a meaning behind the loud bam that ultimately ended the life of a man that’s doing what we’re all doing in this life: just trying to get by and support his loved ones.
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire