Is it possible to turn your life around after making numerous mistakes? Can you keep your promises to change up when time seemed to be running out? What happens when reality changed everything for the worse? That's part of the premise behind the DVD release of "Fruitvale Station," which followed events that led to a real life tragedy that destroyed one life and revealed to the world that not everyone has evolved into civilized human beings. The story was a dynamic one, but the movie could've been longer to further demonstrate the fallout after the tragedy.
"Fruitvale Station" followed the last 24 hours of the life of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) who was a 22 year old Bay Area resident trying to become a better man for his family, but failing to deliver on his promises to his girlfriend Sophia (Melonie Diaz). After a stint in jail, Oscar vowed to make a better life for himself and his family, which included a four year old daughter named Tatiana. He managed to get a steady job at a local grocery store, but he ended up getting fired after being late too many times. Trying to hide the truth from Sophina, Oscar was unsuccessful at getting his job back. He briefly considered dealing drugs again to pay for his rent and help his family out as needed. Instead of getting back into old habits, he threw out the drugs to spare himself any unnecessary risk to his freedom. He also had a brief meeting with a confused supermarket customer named Katie (Ahna O'Reilly) that would be revisited at a pivotal moment of the story. As the day progressed, Oscar continued planning on celebrating his mother Wanda's (Octavia Spencer) birthday on New Year's Eve, even if it meant spending money that he might not have. Oscar also managed to tell Sophina some unexpected truths and ended up getting closer to her in the process. The couple even planned on going out with friends to celebrate in the New Year's festivities. Sadly, they didn't plan for a reminder from Oscar's prison days causing trouble in a way that they never imagined at the train station. Two officers (Kevin Durand and Chad Michael Murray) came onto the scene and rushed to some untrue judgments that led to a major tragedy. How will everyone be able to recover from it and what happens to those responsible?
In terms of questions, the movie posed a few, but left a few open as well to help viewers understand that not every question can be answered because it would be impossible to solve the unsolvable. The real tragedy of Grant's shooting was shocking in ways, but the biggest shock was that it could've been avoided. The movie demonstrated the brutal tragedy of the shooting by showing how easily a night of fun can go so horribly wrong based on making the wrong judgment and not thinking before making a fatal error. The story managed to realistically showcase how Jordan's Grant was a force to be reckoned with, even if he made huge mistakes in the process. The movie didn't attempt to overlook Grant's flaws, such as his drug dealing past and his ability to make the wrong choice for the right reasons. Jordan's Grant avoided telling his girlfriend the truth about being unemployed because he didn't want to disappoint her once again. Despite the film's less than 90 minute running time, the story still managed to pack quite an emotional wallop after the shooting happened. Viewers felt for Oscar's loved ones as they waited for news after the shooting, but the movie could've ran just maybe five or so minutes longer to wrap up the story properly. Maybe, a brief scene to showcase the ensuing fallout after the shootout; or how different members of the family coped with the loss. The movie's final scene was a powerful one, but it ended on such a flat note that made it hard to believe that was the movie's ending. Luckily, the movie partially redeemed themselves by adding some real life background of the story to tell viewers what happened to everyone involved. Unfortunately, it would've been better to show the fallout than just simply tell it. Those scenes would've been dynamic to watch.
As for breakout performers, Jordan and Spencer led the pack as a mother and son destined for trouble to occur at any given time. Jordan's portrayal of Oscar made him a star in the making because he managed to bring to life a character who was fascinatingly flawed to watch as he struggled to redeem himself time and time again. He demonstrated Oscar's determination with a sense of optimism and longing at various points of the story. There was one scene at the beach Jordan's Oscar struggled with dealing drugs again or taking the high road. The struggle was evident in Jordan's face, which made viewers relieved when he made the right choice. Jordan's strongest scenes involved the character learning and telling some harsh truths. An early flashback had Jordan's Oscar in jail for a minor charge, which forced him to act too tough for his own good. When Spencer's Wanda told her son that she wouldn't be visiting him in jail anymore, it was like the character was slapped in the face. It scared him to not have his usual constant support system to be there for him. He demonstrated his anger and disappointment after his mother left without giving him a goodbye hug, which seemed to hurt even more than her words. Another key scene for Jordan was when Oscar was telling Diaz's Sophina about being unemployed because his range of emotions changed constantly. He went from fear, anger and humor within a matter of minutes. It also helped that he had a strong chemistry with Diaz that was clear from their first scene together, but their on-screen relationship took a backseat to the chaos that was unfolding around them. Spencer, on the other hand, had to make the most of her limited screentime, which she did in one pivotal scene as she allowed her character to truly deal with fallout of Oscar's death. She allowed herself to overcome the denial and broke in tears without the watchful eye of her loved ones. It was heartbreaking to watch from start to finish. Hopefully, Spencer and Jordan will get the chance to work together again, because they weren't given enough time to fully explore their characters' strong dynamic. Fingers crossed that it will happen sooner rather than later.
Verdict: Despite a very short running time, Jordan and Spencer delivered strong performances as a mother and son learning to how live in the real world with disappointing results.
DVD Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Movie Rating: R
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)