Lazy Movie Review: Fruitvale Station

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Premise:  A young guy named Oscar goes through the motions of a regular day in his life in Oakland, California.  Literally, we just watch this guy have an ordinary day in his life for 65 minutes.  Then at the very end,  something terrible happens to him at the hands of some over-eager (possibly racist?) police officers, resulting in tragedy.

 

Pros:

-The film opens with a phone video of the actual incident.  I’m happy they did this, because I had no idea what the movie was about before I sat in my theater seat, and I knew that there would be some kind of real conflict at the end of this film because of it.  If it played out without giving me a snippet of the reason I’m actually watching the movie, I would have wondered why I was sitting through this carefree movie for so long.  It’s kind of a minimalist project, with no forward moving plot of any kind.   That doesn’t necessarily work against the film, but it just helped to have a reason to want to stay there until the end.

-Michael B. Jordan (also from Chronicle) seems like he has a good acting career ahead of him.  A lot of people are saying that Fruitvale Station is going to get some Oscar buzz.  I’d be kind of surprised if Jordan got a nomination, but he did pretty good in this film.  He never overplayed his hand.  Tough break on the name though, I’m sure he’s had some Office Space/Michael Bolton moments in his life.

-Oscar is a pretty complex character.  I know he’s based off a real person, but I don’t know how much or how little of this was cinematic exaggeration, so I say ‘character’.  In varying scenes he can either be a pretty alright dude (helping a woman at the grocery store), or a complete asshole (threatening his former boss at the same grocery store with violence because he got fired for showing up late multiple times).  I guess that’s kind of how most people are in real life, a crude mixture of cool and cruel.  Especially a guy under as much financial stress as Oscar is.  I mean, this is an angry, ex-convict, who is a current drug dealer and an apparent womanizer; and he’s the protagonist.  It was an interesting character.

-There were a lot of similarities I noticed between this and Spike Lee’s 1989 classic Do the Right Thing.  A single day in the life of a struggling black kid.  He has a loud Hispanic girlfriend (though, she’s no Rosie Perez).  He has a kid he could be more involved with.  There’s a lot of heavy, metaphorical scenes that may or may not have anything to do with anything else in the film.  The movie culminates in a screaming match and fight with white police officers.  The police use excessive force.  There’s even a shot of Oscar’s friend yelling out of a police car window, which was basically the same shot in Lee’s movie, with Buggin’ Out yelling instead.  Fruitvale Station’s riot happens off camera, but it happens.  The only thing missing was “Fight the Power.”  Maybe I just noticed these things because I’ve seen Do the Right Thing ten times; but I noticed them, and didn’t mind the comparisons.

-Tugs on the heartstrings at the end.  It’s hard not to feel something when they bust out real footage of the actual aftermath.

-There were only about ten other people in the theater with me, and 100% of them were elderly white ladies.  I just thought that was kind of funny, seeing as how the movie’s subject matter is targeted at a much younger, blacker crowd.  To the old ladies’ credit, it seemed like they dug it.

 

Cons:

-It’s kind of a minimalist project, with no forward moving plot of any kind.

-“Shakey, low light camera work means that it’s a very gritty film to be taken seriously.”  -Says someone who doesn’t appreciate legitimately good cinematography.

-I can’t say that everything in this film actually happened (leading up to the end), or if it was just fictionalized for the sake of making a movie…  But if it *did* all actually happen, then he happened to have an amazingly life-changing and spiritual day on the exact same day he happened to also lose his life in a completely unrelated way.

-As big as a social commentary film that this is ended up becoming by the end, they really do just leave most of it at the end.  I guess the main purpose of the film was to humanize the victim of this terrible crime; which is important, because it’s definitely worthwhile to recognize him as an actual person, and not just a statistic.  But still, It kind of felt like a missed opportunity for something better.  It’s almost like it had a 20 minute first act, a 50 minute second act, and a 15 minute third act.

-Maybe it’s just because I’ve been in a documentary mood lately, but I would I probably would have liked to have just watched a doc on the same subject.

 

Final Thoughts:  I’d just like to say that I thought Fruitvale Station was a good movie.  It was.  It works on a few different levels, and it even kind of works on the minimalist levels I somewhat criticized it for earlier (hey, it did only cost $900k to make, kudos).  That being said, it’s one of those movies that people who haven’t seen a lot of smaller indie movies will think is amazing.  But to someone who watches a lot of everything, it’s really just kind of run-of-the-mill, in terms of being anything remotely groundbreaking.  It’s totally watchable (despite the uncomfortable subject matter), but maybe not as amazing as it wishes it was.

8 out of 10

 

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