Saturday, August 10, 2013

Fruitvale Station (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Fruitvale Station

"Fruitvale Station" is an unnerving and sensitive recreation of the devastating incident in Oakland California, in which Oscar Grant III, twenty two, was shot and killed by a police officer during the New Year's Eve holiday in 2009. Grant was unarmed. The officer, who said he thought he was reaching for his taser was charged with Involuntary Manslaughter and served eleven months against previous time served.

We first see Grant (Michael B. Jordan) in a modest home just trying to cope. He has recently been released from jail on drug charges.

Grant has an adorable and glib daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal). He clearly loves his daughter, frequently running, playing and sharing secrets with her.

Right away, we sympathize with Grant who has an inquisitive openness to seemingly everyone, although he is not perfect. He has fast friends who are after him to deal pot and his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz)  has just found out that he has been cheating on her. Through it all, Grant shrugs it off with a disarming smile.

Grant, sadly, must always look over his shoulder and the nervous tension is equal to any Brian De Palma thriller. Even though he has made mistakes in life, Grant is no thug or hardened criminal. On the way to a grocery store, we see him pet a pit bull dog. Then there is a jarring moment as the dog is struck by a car, but no one comes to Grant's call for help.

Both Oscar and the dog are outsiders. Grant stops by a grocery store to talk with his friend. He then spontaneously helps Katie (Ahna O' Reilly) a female stranger with dinner advice, even to the point of lending his smartphone. By chance he happens to see the manager who abruptly fires him. Grant grabs the manager in desperation.

After a moment of self reflection, Oscar dumps the pot into the bay and tells a benign fib to his friend that he sold the pot and is without any deal.

Oscar resolves to go straight.

At a birthday celebration, Oscar's mom (Octavia Spencer) urges him to take the subway rather than drive to see New Year's fireworks given the chance of drinking and his history.

He reluctantly agrees.

That night, Oscar feels relieved of his job worries. He is with his friends who are jubilant and good natured. Better yet, he is with his girlfriend Sophina and all is easy.

Gradually though, a huge swell of people looms on the cement horizon like an oppressive cloud. A Hitchcockian sense of fear ensues. Within the crammed car, there is barely an inch to spare, but despite this, there is dancing.

Abruptly, Cale (Joey Oglesby) a former prison nemesis who looks very much like Bane from "The Dark Knight Rises" appears in the crowd and threatens Oscar.

An anxious, claustrophobic fight begins and Oscar is violently handled by the police while Cale has somehow inexplicably vanished.

Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle)  is spectacular as Oscar Grant  who never forgets to look both ways and still carries himself with a warmth and an affectionate spirit. He is a good hearted Everyman of sorts who is heartrendingly caught in a noir happenstance of  old mistakes and fates dealt by egregious abuses of power and violent ignorance.

This is director Ryan Coogler's first feature and it will rip at your heart. A good bit of  this film is exceedingly hard to watch, but don't let the subject intimidate you: in this offensive age of racial profiling and the error-ridden 'Stand Your Ground' law, "Fruitvale Station" (produced by Forest Whitaker) is an anxious and thoughtful study of what went  terribly wrong when a young crowd was sparked by hateful racist threats headed by one ugly officer. The disparate elements were recorded on a smartphone in a noisy, oddly mournful vibration while an unassuming yet spirited young man is horribly and needlessly pinned against the cement ground.

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