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Tue July 30, 2013
Director: Ryan Coogler
Runtime: 90 min.
by John DeSando
"Maybe not f*** up for 30 days. That's how long Oprah says it takes to form a habit, right?" Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan)
That’s what Oscar tells Sophina (Melonie Diaz) about his plans after being fired for tardiness. When you know that he has already at 22 been in the state pen twice (probably selling drugs), you have to question whether he can fulfill that promise. Not to worry, because Fruitvale Station is the “inspired by” true story about Oscar’s last 24 hours before being murdered by a BART policeman in the real scene shown at the outset through bystanders’ cell cameras.
Fruitvale Station won the audience award at Cannes, and I’m surprised: more than half this docudrama is small set-up scenes of Oscar’s playing with his daughter, helping a stray dog, advising a stranger how to fry fish and generally acting like a choir boy. Only briefly are we exposed to the drug world he is trying to avoid.
Those sentimental scenes do not help first-time director Ryan Coogler create a -balanced film; Slant magazine famously accused the film of “manipulation.” I agree. However in Coogler’s favor, he does an effective job showing the chaos surrounding the murder at Fruitvale Station.
Michael B. Jordan is good enough to take over from Cuba Gooding Jr. and actually make a great career rather than a Gooding mediocre one. Octavia Spencer as Grant’s mother (and a producer) has the soulful mien of a woman who has seen too much already. Melanie Diaz as Grant’s girlfriend, Sophina, gives a credible performance of the now clichéd suffering good woman who loves her bad boyfriend.
With such a manipulative rendering of circumstances, it’s hard to believe Cannes’ adulation, except that the sequence on the platform draws in sympathy regardless of the overly sentimental preparation.
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at WCBE.org. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com