#TBT: Fruitvale Station Movie Review

This weekend is a big weekend for movies with Disney Pixar’s second feature film of the year coming out, The Good Dinosaur, as well as the highly anticipated sequel/reboot to the classic Sylvester Stallone movie Rocky, Creed, starring Michael B. Jordan and Stallone. I have a difficult time calling this a sequel or a reboot because I think that it is a brand new story with the character of Rocky Balboa playing a key supporting role. I am going to consider Creed a rebirth, directed by Ryan Coogler, so for my first Throwback Thursday Review, I decided to review the film that was produced the first time Coogler and Jordan came together, Fruitvale Station. Fruitvale Station is directed by Coogler and stars Michael B. Jordan (not to be confused with #23 of the Chicago Bulls) as the 22 year old Oscar Grant III. This film takes viewers through the final day of Grant’s life from December 31st, 2008 to New Year’s Day of 2009 when Grant was fatally shot by a Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, police officer. I do not consider this a spoiler as actual footage of the shooting taken on cell phone cameras is shown at the beginning of the film. If you have not been to the bay area of San Francisco and Oakland, BART is a widely used transportation system for bay area citizens to make the commute to work at a low price. Have you seen the prices to own and park a car in San Francisco? It’s insane! But that is beside the point. Coogler used accounts and retellings of the day from Grant’s family and friends to make this 2013 movie, and from what I have read and understand, the film is pretty accurate.

Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant III in 2013’s Fruitvale Station

First of all, I want to dive into someone who is one of my favorite up and coming actors in Hollywood, Michael B. Jordan. He seems to pick roles in which he can demonstrate his abilities and put on display his true talents. Jordan other movies include Chronicle, That Awkward Moment, Fruitvale Station, and Fantastic Four prior to Creed (Maybe Fantastic Four isn’t a good example, but I don’t blame him for continuing to disgrace the Fantastic Four). He has always picked movies where he can shine, and boy does he get to shine in this movie. In my opinion, this is his best performance. He does so well playing Oscar Grant to the point where I do not see Michael B. Jordan the actor anymore, I see Oscar Grant III, the man. That is how I feel you know when you have become an elite actor or actress. Elite actors and actresses embody their character so perfectly and transform themselves so effortlessly that they become that character. Each line is spoken with thought and passion, and it is obvious he tried to do Grant justice in the way that he played the role. The supporting cast also gets a chance to shine in this movie. Melonie Diaz does a very good job. She is not in very many popular or widely seen movies, but when she gets the chance in this movie, the understanding and mind-set of her character is really well demonstrated. Octavia Spencer also gives a phenomenal performance as Oscar Grant’s mother. I truly believe that she deserved an Oscar nomination for this movie, which she did not receive, something I will get into later.

Also, as Ryan Coogler’s first feature-length film, he does an absolutely incredible job directing this movie. Every shot is done with so much precision and does justice to the family depicted in the film. It really makes me anticipate Coogler’s upcoming film, Creed, and I would be excited to see any movie he makes in the future. The characters are the driving force of the movie. Oscar is not a perfect person. None of us are. But he is so easy to get behind it is uncanny the way that Jordan and Coogler were able to do just this. He is someone who sells drugs and cheats on his girlfriend, but he is so darn likable it is impossible not to like him. His relationship with his daughter, Tatiana, was really a driving force of the movie. This relationship is one of the reasons that Grant was so likable because the love he had for his daughter was obvious. His daughter is the reason you will walk away from Fruitvale Station with a broken heart and a pit in your stomach. The final scene is so heartbreaking that you cannot help but cheer for Grant to survive. It sounds crazy that you can cheer for something that you know will not happen, (76ers fans know all about this) but that is exactly how I felt watching the final act of Fruitvale Station unfold. The film really draws out every emotion and leaves you physically drained. There are only two movies where I have cried, Marley & Me and Radio. As I said, only two movies have made me cry, and I was on the verge, as close as I get, during the final twenty minutes of the movie. This movie blew me away with emotion.

Coogler and Jordan on the set of Fruitvale Station

As much as I think this is an absolutely phenomenal movie, there are two areas I found that it did not reach its maximum potential. However, the movie did not necessarily fail in these areas. I would even say that the movie was above average in these areas. First is how the movie finished following the final scene. Many times I do not believe that movies go deep enough following the climax of the movie, and this movie suffered from that in my opinion. It may have been the emotional ties I had to the movie, but following the station scene, I feel that the movie wrapped up a bit too quickly. My other problem with the movie, as much as I will praise this aspect of the film, is the writing. There are some overused words, which can be forgivable to an extent due to the human nature of using words natural to our vocabulary, and this film was very realistic. These two problems do not majorly affect my feelings toward the film, but to me, they do take from my idea of perfection.

Fruitvale Station was nominated for exactly zero Academy Awards. There are some Academy Awards that I feel this movie should have definitely been nominated for. I think that Michael B. Jordan should have been nominated for Best Actor, and Octavia Spencer should have been nominated for her second Best Supporting Actress award. Neither happened, but that is how  good I believe Jordan and Spencer are in this movie. Overall, this is a fantastic movie with very strong performances, directing, and overall production. Fruitvale Station is a difficult movie to re-watch right away, but it is absolutely engrossing on the first watch. I won’t go too far into the aftermath of the movie because after one watch, you will want to do research and find some things out on your own. I guarantee it will happen. I’m going to give Fruitvale Station a 9.5/10. I strongly suggest checking this movie out, and I can tell you that at the moment, it is on Netflix. If you want to get familiar with Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler, you would like to shed some tears, or you want to be engrossed in a film for an hour and a half, I would definitely suggest seeing Fruitvale Station.

Have you seen Fruitvale Station already? If not, I hope that you will check it out and maybe the Throwback Thursday reviews can open up a few windows into movies that aren’t currently in theaters. If you have seen it, what did you think? What is your favorite Michael B. Jordan movie? And finally, will you be seeing Creed this weekend? Comment and let me know! I’m excited to see Creed and will be reviewing it as soon as possible! Thank you and keep listening to 88.7 The Pulse.

PHOTO: Best Sundance Films

About Justin Lyons

Hey, it’s Justin Lyons! I am the Chief Film Critic for The Pulse. Have any questions for me? Please feel free to email me at movies@pulseradio.fm