Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Cannes 2013: Fruitvale Station Review

Director/Writer: Ryan Coogler

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Ariana Neal

Synopsis: The true story of Oscar Grant (Jordan), a 22-year-old man who was shot by police on New Year’s Eve 2008 – the film follows the days leading up to the shooting.

A contrast to the gloomy depictions of South L.A., Fruitvale Station may still be a biting exploration of that environment, but it is a more redemptive and ultimately heartbreaking story than many movies in the same vein. Awarding it this reception is director Ryan Coogler’s relatively stark portrayal of Oscar Grant (showing only a few days in the man’s life) and a terrific Michael B. Jordan as the tragic hero of the story.

Jordan made a firm impression in The Wire and in Chronicle and, much like his co-star Dane DeHaan, he has gone onto further interesting dramatic work such as this. Fruitvale Station asks a lot of the young actor – an entire narrative for him to lead, and an empathy desperately needed for the film to work. Jordan achieves this without question, heroically highlighting a figure many may not know about, but will no doubt forget.

In order to make the last 20 minutes as harrowing and tear-jerking as possible, Coogler does a fine job at building up an image of Mr. Grant – a sweet-natured ex-convict whose family has helped him change his illicit ways. The relationship he has with both his girlfriend and daughter never fails to feel genuine and touching – with both Melonie Diaz and youngster Ariana Neal epitomising the supportive and adoring family members. When we relive the tragedy witnessed briefly in the first shot (mobile phone footage that recorded the shooting of Oscar), the sadness felt – that each of these people have lost someone so close to them – is undeniable. Seen through various vantage points, and played out in real-time, this is the film’s glowing triumph – a scene of pure tension and horror, played out magnificently.

Performances, rather than structure and direction (as great as it is for a feature debut), are what earns the film its accolades. In terms of camera-work and editing, there are some faults. Focus, whether it is in relation to lenses or character, often seem clumsy. For instance, certain relationships need to be expanded on (perhaps more with Oscar’s mother – the scene-stealing Octavia Spencer) and others need detracting from (one of Oscar’s friends/customers buying weed). It does no harm to the end’s poignancy but perhaps with more concise spotlighting of certain characters it could have had a lasting impression (as it stands, Oscar Grant becomes someone you care for, but know little about).

For those unaware of the events surrounding Fruitvale Station and Oscar Grant, Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut hammers it into your subconscious. Fruitvale Station alerts you to the overarching message about gun-control in America, and the harrowing incidents that surround it. The performances are awards-worthy, yet soured on occasion by jagged structuring and moments of trite cliché.

Fruitvale Station was competing in Un Certain Regard Selection at Cannes 2013. Also posted on LiveForFilms.com

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