‘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
Local

East Village woman fights off rape attempt from…

An East Village woman fought off an attempted rapist that she woke to find standing on her bed over the weekend, police said.

International

Nearly 300 missing after South Korean ferry capsizes

Almost 300 people were missing after a ferry capsized off South Korea Wednesday, in what could be the country's biggest maritime disaster in over 20 years.

Local

Police look for man suspected of threatening Muslim…

Police seek man suspected of calling a teen Muslim girl a "terrorist" and spitting on her multiple times while on a Queens bus.

National

Miley Cyrus hospitalized, cancels Kansas concert, condition unknown,…

Singer Miley Cyrus was hospitalized on Tuesday night after suffering what is believed to be 'a severe allergic reaction' to antibiotics medication. The 21-year-old Bangerz…

Entertainment

Miley Cyrus hospitalized, cancels Kansas concert, condition unknown,…

Singer Miley Cyrus was hospitalized on Tuesday night after suffering what is believed to be 'a severe allergic reaction' to antibiotics medication. The 21-year-old Bangerz…

Television

'Orphan Black's' Jordan Gavaris talks Felix's Season 2…

Jordan Gavaris plays heroically helpful foster sibling Felix to main clone Sarah on "Orphan Black." We talked to him about what’s ahead for him in…

Going Out

Accomplice Tour: New York (Spoiler Alert)

When I signed up for the Accomplice show tour, I had no idea what I was in for. But every grimy job comes with a great reward.

Television

TV watch list, Tuesday, April 15: 'New Girl,'…

'New Girl' Nick and Jess are hiding their breakup from the other loft residents. And Winston passes the police academy exam! That guy needed some…

NBA

Nets miss chance to clinch No. 5 seed…

Nets head coach Jason Kidd expressed little concern after a 109-98 loss to the Knicks, but others seemed to disagree.

NFL

Jets confident despite Chris Johnson leaving with no…

Jets fans clamored for a playmaker on offense all offseason. It looked like they were going to land that player on Tuesday when Chris Johnson…

NBA

Knicks, Nets rivalry never materialized despite national attention

When the NBA schedule was released, the league anticipated an intense rivalry between the Nets and Knicks with all four games slated for national TV.

NBA

NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could…

NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could the Mavericks surprise?

Home

Steal home decorating tips from Nattystyle blogger Natalie…

Despite the towering ceilings and enviable exposed brick, it’s easy to see how Natalie Decleve’s apartment could be considered a challenge. Perched above the streets…

Home

How to plant a garden in the city

Small on space but big on gardening? You can still have that welcoming oasis of fresh air with an urban garden. Peter Smith, owner of…

Style

Personalize your massage at a private practice

CityTouch customizes spa treatments to meet client's needs.

Style

Victoria's Secret Fashion Show moving to England

It will still broadcast on CBS this fall.