‘Fruitvale Station’ tries to overcome certain Sundance problems

Michael B. Jordan (carrying Ariana Neal) plays real-life police casualty Oscar Grant in "Fruitvale Station." Credit: The Weinstein Company
Michael B. Jordan (carrying Ariana Neal) plays real-life police casualty Oscar Grant in “Fruitvale Station.”
Credit: The Weinstein Company

‘Fruitvale Station’
Director: Ryan Coogler
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

“Fruitvale Station” closes with footage from New Year’s Day seven months ago, with an anniversary eulogy for the man the film portrays: Oscar Grant, a 22 year old senselessly killed by a police officer only fifteen minutes into 2009. (Hopelessly this doesn’t sound too similar to another senseless death.) The many mourners seem to treat him as a kind of folk hero. But “Fruitvale Station” tries hard to treat him as a person — just a guy. “Station” spans just over the last 24 hours of his life, and if it weren’t for the actual cell phone footage of the concluding incident that opens the film, it could seem to be just another, mildly momentous movie day-in-the-life.

Grant is played by Michael B. Jordan, known either/both as Vince Howard on “Friday Night Lights” and Wallace on “The Wire.” Jordan has an easy likability to him, a sweet intelligence that can sometimes drift into something darker. Grant is a martyr, but not a saint: He’s done jail time, presumably (we’re never told) for dealing, which he still hesitantly does. It’s suggested he’s recently cheated on his girlfriend Mesa (Melonie Diaz), with whom he has a four year old daughter (Ariana Neal). He’s been laid off from a supermarket job for two weeks due to chronic lateness, a fact he hasn’t told his family. The only time the movie leaps away from this single day — for a jail-set flashback that half exists to give Octavia Spencer, as his mom, a scene to chew on — we see Oscar shift from genuinely good-natured to hardened perp, swapping smack with another con, a monster lurking there when prodded.

Jordan deserves any of the many accolades that have come, and will come, his way, and it’s the most interesting part of a movie that sometimes gets stuck on indie cliches. A scene where Oscar tends to a dog just mowed over in a hit-and-run (he’s sensitive, see?), plus all the talk of finally, at long last turning his life around can seem stock, though the last part is allegedly accurate. (Ditto, incredibly, that this did happen on his mother’s birthday. Sometimes life does imitate Sundance movies.) But first-time filmmaker Ryan Coogler, who was Oscar’s age when this occurred, doesn’t buy into his protagonist as something more than he is. Nor does he treat him as mere victim. Oscar seems to be little more than a casualty of fate. Coogler doesn’t delve into potential racism with the white cops who beat and shot him, but portrays the incident (to the letter, reportedly) as a situation that went madly out of control, even if it’s not exactly blameless. It brings him back to life, (mostly) warts and all.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

Sierra Leone Ebola patient, recovered from family, dies…

An Ebola patient whose family sparked a nationwide hunt when they forcefully removed her from a treatment center and took her to a traditional healer has died.

Local

VIDEO: Cop reassigned as NYPD investigates alleged head…

An officer alleged to have stomped on a Brooklyn man's head last week had his gun taken away and placed on modified duty.

National

New York Times calls for legalization of pot

The New York Times editorial board on Saturday endorsed a repeal of the federal ban on marijuana, becoming the largest paper in the nation to back the idea.

National

Two injured after cable snaps on Ohio amusement…

(Reuters) - A cable on a large swing ride at an Ohio amusement park snapped and struck two riders as the swing was in motion,…

Music

Newport Folk Festival: Photo gallery of 35 moments…

As has been the tradition since Bob Dylan plugged in a bajillion years ago, the Newport Folk Festival embraces more musical genres than its name implies.

Music

MKTO: Behind the bromance

MKTO's Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller talk about the American Dream tour, Demi Lovato and getting turned down by girls.

Arts

James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne head to…

Two-time Tony winner James Earl Jones returns to the New York stage next month as an eccentric grandfather in a revival of the 1930s comedy…

Movies

Box office: Scarlett Johansson wins battle of brains…

Scarlett Johansson's "Lucy" handily dispatched with Dwayne Johnson's "Hercules" over the weekend.

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

MLB

Yankees GM Brian Cashman breaks down art of…

The action frequently accelerates as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, as it will on Thursday.

Auto racing

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Wellbeing

This Week In Health: Friends share similar DNA,…

Friends share similar DNA, study finds Location: U.S. Study subjects: Nearly 2,000 people Results: When it comes to our social networks, it seems that birds of…

Education

Are liberal arts colleges turning away from the…

Bryn Mawr College, a small women's college located just outside of Philadelphia, announced last week that it would be making standardized tests like the SAT…

Education

Recent grads discover school superintendent plagiarized parts of…

  Two recent high school graduates made a surprising discovery about the commencement speech their school superintendent delivered at their graduation: portions of it was copied…

Career

Feeling stuck? Get out of the entry-level job…

Television and movies may be littered with 20-something characters who seem directionless when it comes to their careers, but author Mary Traina says she finds…