Fruitvale Station

Ariana Neal and Michael B. Jordan in "Fruitvale Station"

Ariana Neal and Michael B. Jordan in “Fruitvale Station”

“Fruitvale Station” is, without a doubt, the best movie I have seen so far this summer.  It is also one of the very best pictures of the year. “Fruitvale Station” is a topical, involving, beautifully acted and expertly directed film about real people with real problems who are portrayed with dignity.  

“Fruitvale Station” is the true story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old African American man living in San Francisco.  The story follows Oscar through the last day of 2008.

“Fruitvale Station” is a compelling story.  The film has been directed, by Ryan Coogler, in a very effective, documentary style which makes even the most mundane aspects of Oscar’s day interesting.  We know, from the film’s opening shots, that something is looming on the horizon and this, together with a commanding, yet understated lead performance, by Michael B. Jordan, as Oscar, kept me riveted.

Oscar is clearly no saint, but not a bad guy either.  Oscar drops his daughter off at school, tries to salvage a grocery store job from which he has already been fired, tries to make things right with his girlfriend, Sophina, nicely played by Melonie Diaz, and make plans for his mother’s birthday.  Along the way we are given part of Oscar’s back-story, via a flashback.

The supporting cast includes Octavia Spencer (“The Help”) as Wanda, Oscar’s mother with whom, in the past, Oscar has had a tumultuous relationship.  Spencer is authentic and memorable without turning her part into a star vehicle.  In fact every character, from Oscar’s grandmother, seen briefly, to a grocery store shopper with whom Oscar has an interchange.

I know that many critics will not be able to discuss “Fruitvale Station” without giving away its ending.  I will simply say that Oscar’s day unfolds in a manner that is topical and thought provoking.

I cannot believe that I even have to write about “Fruitvale Station” in the same column as “The Way, Way Back” (article below).  While the latter is a smug, derivative waste of time, “Fruitvale Station” is original, sensitive and authentic.  Not to belabor the point, but I cannot believe that these two movies were even playing in the same multiplex and that I saw them on the same night.  My experience illustrates the extremes to which films can go.  This should not surprise me, but, every now and then, it does.  One film can reflect sit-com sensibilities (“The Way, Way Back”) while the other can illuminate life (“Fruitvale Station”).

“Fruitvale Station” is playing locally at Angelika Film Center, 18 West Houston Street.

Fruitvale Station, Director Ryan Coogler, 2013,

85 minutes, rated R

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on July 20, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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