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'Fruitvale Station' review: Appalling and influential yet somehow unremarkable

Fruitvale Station


"Fruitvale Station" was released as a single-disc DVD and a two-disc DVD/Blu-ray/Digital HD combo pack today, January 14.

Michael B. Jordan and Ariana Neal as Oscar Grant and his daughter Tatiana.
Michael B. Jordan and Ariana Neal as Oscar Grant and his daughter Tatiana.
Anchor Bay Entertainment
The official Blu-ray cover for "Fruitvale Station."
Anchor Bay

On New Year's Day in 2009, a 22-year-old and Bay Area resident named Oscar Grant (played by Michael B. Jordan, "Chronicle") was shot and killed by BART officers at the Fruitvale Station train stop in a meaningless incident that made a massive impact. After doing some time in prison, selling drugs, and getting caught in the act of cheating on his wife, Oscar was finally ready to turn his life around and was in the process of doing so before his life was suddenly taken from him at such a young age. "Fruitvale Station" documents Oscar's final hours leading up to the tragic incident.

"Fruitvale Station" generated a lot of early Oscar buzz (slight pause for the first horrible pun of the year) for lead actor Michael B. Jordan. While Jordan likely has a bright future ahead of him as an actor, his performance in the film is far from extraordinary. Jordan has one breakout scene and that's the scene where his mother (Octavia Spencer) visits him in a penitentiary in 2007. Jordan is distraught as his character goes through several different emotions that usually result in Oscar lashing out at those around him. The scene culminates with Oscar being held back by security guards as the camera looks over his mother's shoulder while she exits. The scene is explosive, intense, and emotional and the only other scene that comes close to it is when Oscar is begging for his job at Farmer Joe's. Jordan also has fantastic chemistry with Ariana Neal; the young actress that portrays Oscar's daughter Tatiana. Their time on-screen together is heartwarming, but never seems to last very long.

Despite not being the biggest fan of the film, viewing the film twice was a worthwhile experience. Not only was the film slightly more enjoyable the second time around, but it's easier to notice the littler things tucked away in subtlety in films with repeat viewings. Like the importance of only seeing Oscar in the shower at the beginning of the film and then his wife and daughter sobbing and trying to make sense of things before the credits roll. While it's very common in the Bay Area and was likely inevitable to avoid while filming there, BART seems to lurk around in the background the majority of the film hinting at the sorrow that's about to come.

While you can understand why anyone would want to put a film like this into production, you still question the importance of everything leading up to that moment already cemented in everyone's minds. The film tries so hard to let you know that Oscar was more than the scene of police brutality he had to suffer through and is remembered for and seeing him engage in acts of kindness that show that he's not only human but is really trying to be better for his daughter is encouraging. However seeing events like Oscar purchasing crab for his mother's birthday, holding a dog that was hit by a car as it dies, and throwing his marijuana stash away into the ocean isn't exactly riveting entertainment. Oscar feels like he's being forced back into his delinquent ways and he's a very devoted family man, but it all seems very routine and uneventful in the end. Maybe that's the point with the way things end.

There are loads of talent and effort sewn into every line of dialogue and every frame of "Fruitvale Station." The performances intrigue and the climax takes your breath away just as it should. But the argument is being made that the majority of the film is uninteresting. This is the story of a young man living a normal life who's taken one too many bad turns along the way and is attempting to fix them until it's all cut short. But if the rest of his life is just like yours or the guy sitting next to you or the woman walking across the street then how is that expected to keep your interest? "Fruitvale Station" is centered around a tragic event with a powerful message, but just lacks the momentum to actually be impressive.