Running Time: 85 mins.
Premise: Based on a true story, the film chronicles the last day in the life of 22 year-old Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) on New Year's Eve 2008, when he was shot and killed by police.
Behind-the-Scenes: Originally called just Fruitvale, the movie premiered at Sundance in January to great acclaim. It won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award. The Weinstein Company snapped up distribution rights for $2.5 million. Writer-director Ryan Coogler makes his feature debut. Forest Whitaker is a credited producer.
The Good: Michael B. Jordan gives a tremendous performance as Grant. He owns the movie, and gives a compelling, intricately shaded portrait of a young man trying to better his life. His scenes opposite the young girl playing Grant's daughter, Tatiana, are a thing of beauty. Jordan has already proven his excellence on TV, with key roles in The Wire and Friday Night Lights, but he has the chops for a long career as a leading man in feature films. Octavia Spencer, as Grant's mom, is even better here than she was in The Help. Coogler has a keen eye for understated detail, and stages all of the character interactions with a warmth and realism that belies his relative inexperience behind the camera. The true story is perfect fodder for a movie, and Coogler, coming close but without ever going for heavy melodrama, mines it for every last ounce of its potential. Fruitvale Station is everything it should be: important, topical, entertaining, insightful, nerve-wracking, and infuriating. The ending is an emotional gut punch that left many audience members, myself included, shaken and stirred. The loss is palpable.
The Bad: I don't know how many dramatic liberties Coogler took with the true story, but several of the scenes play a bit too convenient, and probably make Grant more of a martyr than he really was. Coogler definitely has a message he wants the audience to walk away with here, at the expense of objectivity.
Should You See It?: Yes, definitely. This is on the short list for one of the best pictures of the year, and certainly seems like a lock for a nomination come February. In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, this movie couldn't be more timely.
Star Rating: ****1/2 out of 5 stars.
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