With awards season essentially wrapped up and blockbuster season beginning its reign of terror, I’d like to take a look back at a quiet hit of 2013 that probably failed to get all of the love it deserved. Director Ryan Coogler forged Fruitvale Station out of a heartbreaking true story but managed to transcend the tragedy of Oscar Grant by focusing on the humanity of Oscar Grant, played out beautifully by rising superstar Michael B. Jordan. I usually like to hold off on answering our overarching question in these posts until delving into the categories, but [SPOILER] the answer is YES here. Fruitvale is an important movie that everyone should see, so let’s break down why that’s the case.
Should I pay to see it?
Without question. The film is of course out of theaters at this point, but it is undoubtedly worth the price of rental, purchase, or stream. Both Jordan and Coogler found themselves left out of the Oscar races, and many explanations exist, though I can’t say I think they make up for the snubs. The movie came out in the summer of 2013, so the time gap probably played a factor, but another factor may have played a large role: the presence of multiple powerful films detailing the experiences of black individuals. I do not mean to get political or to lump all of these movies together, but the praise heaped upon later-arriving Lee Daniels’ The Butler and 12 Years a Slave must have helped to overshadow Coogler’s moving work. I hope people pay to see it now, as not enough did so in the theaters!
Could I watch it with a date?
While it won’t serve as background noise for you and yours, Fruitvale Station will certainly resonate if you partake in watching with a significant or less significant other. Jordan, who you may know from strong performances in The Wire, Parenthood, and Chronicle, captures Grant’s inner conflicts, battling to keep his temper in check and his mind clear. His performance is strong in every regard, all the way down to his Oakland slang inflection, and this day in his life will break your heart more than once. You and your date will probably be left with some tears and several platters of food for thought, but food we all need to eat now and then. Fair warning: if you or your date gushed over One Tree Hill Chad Michael Murray, you may not like what you see here in his brief but haunting turn as one of the officers acting questionably in the film’s climactic scenes. Along with Murray, Kevin Durand steps in as a BART officer with anger spilling over, his smooth-shaved head and beady eyes immediately turning you against him.
Could I watch it with my mother?
A powerful and relevant story, a talented lead actor making waves, and a deeply emotional performance by Octavia Spencer as Grant’s mother make for a movie I think mothers will appreciate. The inexplicable randomness of the story’s climax pushes Spencer’s Wanda over the edge, with her rage at the circumstances and her regretful hindsight playing out tragic and raw. Mothers will no doubt connect with her sincerity, voicing their outrage as if Oscar was their own son, lost to a dark world spinning out of their control. If your mother is racist old-fashioned, Fruitvale should be a good kick to the head and heart, and even if she isn’t, I can almost guarantee the film will serve as a reminder of the subtle and muted injustices taking place all around us. The final minutes of the film will make you weep and yell and give you chills, but most of all you will be left angry. You’ll think violent and vengeful thoughts and wish you could take some swings at Murray’s officer. But that’s the point. Coogler knows you’ll think those thoughts. Then what?