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DVD Review: Fruitvale Station

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Synopsis: Oscar Grant is an average 22-year old. He’s an every-guy who has – through bad life decisions and luck – led a less than perfect life. Recently Oscar has tried to turn everything around, vowing to get started on his New Year’s resolutions early to lead a more fulfilling life for himself and his family before tragedy strikes during a confrontation on a commuter train on December 31st 2008.

It’s a delicate thing basing a film on actual events. Not off-centre ‘real’ stories like The Conjuring or Pain & Gain but those based on a real disaster that has affected many. Some films, like The Impossible or Devil’s Knot, are culprits over-gratifying tragedy and not doing those real-life sufferers and their stories justice. A film like Diana or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close works on an entertainment level but is also self-indulgent or glamorous to the point that it betrays the underlying emotions the audience feel going into it. Occasionally though, a Captain Phillips or The Titanic comes along, getting that balance right. This year that perfect balance is brought in Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut, Fruitvale Station, based on the widely publicized and hugely controversial gunning down of Oscar Grant III by Californian transit police.

The film follows Grant’s final day alive, giving the audience a glimpse into the kind of life the Oakland-born father of one led and how he influenced those around him. Played by the exceptional Michael B. Jordan, (whom some of you might remember lent some gravitas to 2012’s hit, Chronicle, and will also be starring as Johnny Storm in the upcoming Fantastic Four film) the camera barely leaves Grant’s side which, rather than being claustrophobic, gives the film a level of intimacy that Jordan handles easily.

Coogler could have very easily attempted to portray Grant as a saint – the perfect father and son (toOctavia Spencer’s stellar Mother Grant) who was gunned down in a rage by uncontrollable authorities. The highly controversial events that the film is based on almost invite that kind of film; one that paints Grant and his kin lightly and the police as demons, but Coogler is out to tell the truth. Oscar Grant is not perfect: we get more than mere glimpses into his criminal and adulterous history; his home life is a mess and he’s not been that great of a son, but he tries. He loves his family and his methods and style are not exemplary by any standards but (in his mind) he’s doing his best, and that’s what makes his story, and the film so effective.

Filmed in a stylistically minimalistic manner and with no superimposed score until the film’s final minutes it’s as if Coogler has invisibly penetrated a real person’s life, standing by their side and just recording. It’s this minimalistic effort – and our knowledge of the events that will occur – that throws on us a cloak of foreboding tension. Not since Ladder 49 or even World Trade Center (which for its lack of merit post-Tower collapse has an incredible opening act) has a film conveyed an impending emotional punch in an entirely natural and un-Hollywood way.

A film about the minutia of life and how easily everything can change in a moment, the looming disaster adds a further layer to the narrative, making every moment of Fruitvale Station unmissable: Grant’s familial arguments, his picking up seafood for his mother’s birthday; his casual drive as he raps to the radio; his (unbeknownst to him) final bedtime routine with his daughter – every moment is filled with whatever meaning we attach to it and makes this specific tragedy personal in a unique way.

That this film was snubbed entirely at all major motion picture awards shows is a crime and its brief stint in UK cinemas went just as unnoticed. But now that the film is coming out on DVD you would be remiss to not own this wonder: it truly is a dramatic experience unlike anything else released in recent years.

Fruitvale Station is released on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download on 6th October

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