Fruitvale Station Review: Well Acted, But Too Obvious

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I have a big gripe with films like this.

If you read anything about this film beforehand, you know it’s based on a true story that features police brutality at its most tragic and, ironically, public. The story of what happened to Oscar Grant on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day four and a half years ago is obviously depressing. And police brutality is obviously a major issue in some areas.

Fruitvale Station shows us these things in such an obvious manner that it almost feels manipulative.

The film starts with Oscar (Michael B. Jordan), a former delinquent and current screw-up, turning over a new leaf for the people most important to him in his life. Yes, it starts there. We don’t watch Oscar grow or change, we just watch him try to redeem himself while bad things keep happening around him. It feels like half a movie is missing.

Jordan does masterfully bring Oscar to life, however. He nearly saves he film. He’s so likable yet so troubled. But the most we get of his pre-growth period is a single flashback to 2007 when he was in prison. There’s no ambiguity to the story.

Director Ryan Coogler has one agenda in mind, to show you this terrible event. He succeeds, quite well in fact, but the issue is he doesn’t try to do anything more with it.

Which is such a shame because damn this thing is well acted and well put-together. Octavia Spencer as Oscar’s good-hearted mother is once again a tour de force. Jordan’s future career is probably the best thing that will come out of this movie.

But ultimately, Fruitvale Station falls short of greatness largely due to Coogler’s misguided approach at getting his message across, simplicity in a complex situation. Every emotion hits right on cue. That may fly in Pacific Rim or Despicable Me 2, but not for a film like this. Grade: C+

By Matt Dougherty

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