When a new film is able to sync up with current events it can be a gift or a curse. In 2012 we experienced this twice, the first time was with the movie "Gangster Squad." Upon release, the film was recut to omit a scene reminiscent of the Aurora Theater shooting, which happened a year ago this month. The second film was "Jack Reacher" the action flick starring Tom Cruise, which was delayed after the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting. It just so happens director Ryan Coogler's debut film, “Fruitvale Station,” has emerged during a time of rising racial tension across the U.S. With George Zimmerman’s trial fresh off the press, it’s difficult to not connect the dots between the two subjects. The difference between this release and the others is that this timeliness works for the film, not against it. Based on a true story, the film opens at Fruitvale train station in Oakland California and exposes viewers to real footage captured on a cellphone. The scene is undeniably disturbing. The film then starts at the beginning and unfolds the events leading up to those intense moments. On December 31st, 2008 we're given a glimpse into the life of Oscar Grant III, played by Michael B. Jordan (of “Friday Night Lights” and “The Wire”). We see the life roles he's both burdened and upheld by: brother, boyfriend, father and son. His daughter and mother Wanda, played by Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer, are integral figures in his life.
Grant was an unarmed African American man shot, while handcuffed face down by local police. While this footage went viral and made headlines briefly during the beginning of 2009, it was soon forgotten. Coogler's manner of storytelling reveals a place of heartfelt concern rather than anger or an agenda. Viewers are allowed to revisit that fateful day, through the eyes of an everyman whose hours on earth are numbered. As a whole the movie is quietly raw. There are no bells and whistles like the above mentioned Hollywood staples. It feels unfiltered and its connection to current zeitgeist adds a level that is personal. Questions about our own mortality as well as morale hang intensely after viewing.
Fruitvale Station opens nationwide on July 26, 2013.