One of the best movies of the year. One of the best movies of the past 5 years. It's only playing in selected cities right now but I assume it will go wider and I assume it will be up for several Academy Awards. It's that good. And an absolute must see. It's an independent film by first-time director Ryan Coogler and it's not perfect and there are a few moments (like the dog scene) that are a bit heavy-handed but it's so fucking powerful, so fucking well acted, and such an amazing story that you owe it to yourself to watch. The film stars Michael B. Jordan (from The Wire and the later seasons on Friday Night Lights, where he played the young upstart QB) and Octavia Spencer (Academy Award winner from The Help) and basically is everything about race relations that the horrendous Academy Award-winning Crash was supposed to be, with actual subtlety and storytelling and non-ridiculous black/white characterizations of racial disharmony. It's about a real-life person and a real-life tragedy, which is of course why it works so well. And every review I've read mentions this event but I won't spoil it until after the break. But you probably want to know what happens before you decide to see it -- I did -- and it certainly won't spoil your enjoyment of the movie, particularly since it's all shown in all its tragic reality in the very first scene. If you see it, do not show up late.
So Fruitvale Station is the story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old unarmed and prone black man shot by a BART (transit) cop at the Fruitvale Station stop in Oakland on New Year's Eve in 2009. The incident was caught on camera phones, resulted in riots, and sounds eerily similar to the Trayvon Martin case, especially in the punishment eventually meted out to the cop. The cell phone footage opens the movie and boy does it pack a wallop. I don't think I've ever been so shocked by something I've seen on film. I knew about the case, a little bit (which is why I sought out the film) but I hadn't ever seen the video. It's truly devastating. With that start, the movie could have gone anywhere but the filmmakers decide to focus on Oscar, and on the 24 hours preceding the incident, sort of a day in the life, but a foreboding, devastating day. It turns out that Oscar, as played by Jordan, is kind of a fuck up -- he's cheated on his girlfriend, he got fired from his job for being perpetually late, and he's been in prison for drug offenses. He's also very caring, dotes on his 4-year-old daughter, and is trying (with much difficulty) to make the changes in his life to move forward, despite being a young black man in Oakland, with the few opportunities that gives. His New Year's Eve day is spent trying to get his job back, buying food and cards for his mother's birthday, and caring for his daughter before and after day care. It's really a beautiful story and so well acted by Jordan (who I didn't really love on Friday Night Lights) but the glimpses of Oscar's short fuse are also shown and eventually lead to the incident on the train.
Director Coogler wisely stays understated throughout and does not overtly bring race into the story, but it's there, it's always there, and in the little moments and the biggest moments, the fact that Oscar is a young black man in Oakland is almost the only important thing about him, as if his very personality is buried under the complete and utter failure of our society to move past the tragedy of racism, after all these years. I was personally appalled by the Trayvon Martin tragedy and even if the facts of the case might not justify George Zimmerman's guilt (which is questionable but I'll allow it for a moment), the very fact of these horrible Stand Your Ground laws that are in place in Florida and other states as a result of the actions of ALEC, an ultra-conservative national group, and the very fact that our country has become such an unrepentant gun culture and the fact that outright racism or poverty or fear turns every young black man into a criminal in the eyes of whites, has made the very lives of young black men less valuable than others, less meaningful, less able to be mourned. And it is an absolute sin of our culture, of our society, and we need to be outraged by events like Trayvon Martin's death, not to fucking excuse it, regardless of whether or not he "fought back" against Zimmerman and gained the upper hand. And if we don't, if we continue to excuse, if we continue to ignroe and pretend that this unrepentant racism still exists to such a great degree, we all should be ashamed by what a sad culture we have become. And forever will be.
But I'll get off the soapbox now and just say watch this movie. I believe it will change you. And hopefully change our country.