In a summer filled with bloated with melodrama and rampant video game-esque CGI, who would’ve thought that one of the most critically acclaimed films of the summer would be an indie film? Who could’ve envisioned that the highest rated current release on Rotten Tomatoes right now is not The Wolverine, or even Pacific Rim, but the true story of a young black man murdered by the police?
While the opinions of film critics and fans can be wildly divergent, Fruitvale Station is a film that deserves all the hype. This is not some melodramatic Oscar bait shlock. Fruitvale Station is an honest, masterfully crafted story and the underdog champ of this summer.
Why is the film so strong? It’s because it is a film completely grounded in reality. Going beyond simply retelling real life events, the film completely absorbs the viewer into the world of its protagonist, Oscar. The film shows Oscar and the world he inhabits as fully fleshed out and three-dimensional.
The performances of Oscar (played by the refreshingly talented Micheal B. Jordan) and his supporting cast are effortless, but completely sincere at the same time. Yet with its tragedy, the film never allows the audience to pity the characters or their world, instead demanding that they be seen as 3-dimensional human beings. Their struggles are placed side by side with their joy and successes.
Their virtues highlighted alongside their vices. The film does not shy away from showing the beauty and ugliness of Oscar and the world he inhabits, and this honesty lets the audience fully connect and care about the story. The film will truly touch and warm your heart just as it smashes it to pieces, and then do it all again.
Another strength of Fruitvale Station that other films of its genre lack is brevity. Ryan Coogler’s script is not only emotional, but quick and to the point. He is able to convey what should be pages worth of dialogue and exposition into a single image.
He is able to tackle the issues of race, poverty, and the value of a life not with long drawn out sermons but vignettes that are quick yet emotional, raw yet thoughtful, beautiful yet horrifying.
Seeing storytelling that is so tight and yet so thoughtful is a rare delight. The film is not perfect however. Its major flaw lies in its cinematography. There are moments where the viewer can see the film was clearly made for less than a million dollars.
While its steady cam shooting style makes the film look more naturalistic, it also make certain scenes look disorienting. Other scenes are grainy or don’t look visually as polished as they should. That being said, most of these flaws come from a low budget rather than poor filmmaking, and the visual hiccups never get in the way of the beautiful tragedy that unfolds.
At the end of the day, Fruitvale Station is an engaging, mature and emotional film. Its cinematography may not be perfect, but its well-crafted heartbreaking story and acting more than makes up for it. Catch this Oscar contender while you still can.