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Fruitvale Station (2013)
The Weinstein Company
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/14/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/7/2014
Docudramas and movies based on real-life events have been around forever. They often prove to be popular and, let's face it, the stories write themselves. Hollywood loves to crank these out and they are also a staple of made-for-TV movies. However, there is often a difference the timeliness of the movies from these two sources. Theatrical films usually tackles topics which are decades, perhaps even centuries old, while TV movies are more topical and love to proclaim that they are "Ripped from the Headlines". Fruitvale Station is an exception to this rule, as it's a theatrical film which was shot just four years after the real-life event took place.
Fruitvale Station takes on the last day in the life of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan). It's New Years Eve and this 22-year old man feels that he needs to make some changes in his life. He's lost his job and, despite the fact that he could, he doesn't want to turn to selling drugs to make money. He and his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz), have a child together, and Oscar is thinking about asking her to marry him, despite their ups and downs. After having dinner with Oscar's mom, Wanda (Octavia Spencer), the two decide to go into the city to party with friends, see fireworks, and ring in the new year. However, this innocent journey will end in tragedy and forever change the lives of those who know Oscar.
Grant's death in 2009 made national headlines, as it appeared to be yet another example of police brutality and a system which was out of control. There were investigations, demonstrations, and a huge outcry from the community. While it would be inaccurate to say that every viewer was intimately familiar with the details of Grant's death, tackling a story like this offers unique challenges. First-time Writer/Director Ryan Coogler has decided to strip the story to the bone and focus only on certain aspects of the story. In a very interesting move, Coogler opens the film with actual witness video of Grant being shot. This sets the tone for a movie with little nonsense. The story then follows Grant through the day which leads up to his death. At only 85 minutes, Coogler doesn't beat around the bush and it's oddly refreshing to see this sort of Oscar-bait movie clocking in at under 90 minutes.
The movie does suffer from some issues. Now, there's no doubt that Michael B. Jordan, who has quickly proven himself with roles in Chronicle and on Parenthood, does a fine job here, but he may not have been the best actor for the role. Coogler has attempted a truthful portrayal of the real-life Grant, a man who served time in prison, sold drugs, and lost his job for tardiness -- in other words, he was far from being an angel. The film makes no effort to glamorize his life or portray him as something other than what he was. However, Jordan, with his baby-face and charismatic air, may be a bit too wholesome for this role. We get the feeling that Oscar was a nice guy who made some bad choices, but Jordan's portrayal simply isn't rough enough around the edges. Again, I applaud Coogler for not stretching things out, but the movie could have used a bit more background on Grant and a lot more info on what happened after the shooting. We come away moved, but also wanting in the details department.
Those issues aside, Coogler definitely strikes right tone with Fruitvale Station. The film could have easily played as overly angry, overly sympathetic, or simply overly dramatic. By playing things straight and keeping it streamlined, Coogler has created a movie which sweeps us into the story and before we know it, the tragedy has occurred. We may not get to know Oscar well enough to be completely touched, but seeing the reactions of his family and friends will push most viewers over the edge. Octavia Spencer is excellent as Oscar's mom and Melonie Diaz shines as a woman who is strained by Oscar's direction in life. Obviously, Fruitvale Station carries a message about racial profiling and police brutality, but the film's ultimate point is to live every day to the fullest and to love those around you, and it shouldn't take a tragic event to make us realize this.
Fruitvale Station did not assuage my fear of taking recipes from strangers on Blu-ray Disc courtesy The Weinstein Company. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is sharp, but it does show a fine sheen of grain throughout. There are no overt defects from the source materials. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The image does get a bit soft at times, but otherwise the level of detail is good. The depth accurately separates the actors from the backgrounds. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. For the most part, this is a fairly quiet film and thus we don't get a plethora of dynamic audio effects. The music in Oscar's car provide some subwoofer action. The New Year's Eve revelers bring the surround sound speakers to life. Some street scenes offer stereo effects which do a nice job of having sounds move from side-to-side.
The Fruitvale Station Blu-ray Disc contains only two extras. "Fruitvale Station: The Story of Oscar Grant" (21 minutes) is a fairly detailed making-of featurette in which Writer/Director Ryan Coogler describes how he was touched by the real-life story and sought to make a film about it. We hear from Producer Forest Whitaker, as well as the cast, all of whom discuss the pressure of making a movie which has a lot to say. The piece offers photos of the real Oscar Grant and delivers video of the protests which took place at the station. "Q&A with Filmmakers & Cast" (27 minutes) was shot in Oakland in July, 2013. Clearly following a screening of the film. The participants share their views on the real-life story and the film with the audience.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long