Monday, January 20, 2014


Finally came around to creating an illustration for the review I wrote for Fruitvale Station over a month ago. I wanted to create an image of Michael B Jordan as Oscar Grant sitting between the two choices he faces. Despite loving the film, I couldn't shake the feeling that throughout the movie I was being manipulated to believe Grant was a 'born-again' soul; that if the director could, he would have canonized him, hence the halo (it's a little exaggerated and over the top but hey, that's the image that came to mind!) Still a great film I highly recommend.


The purportedly true story of Oscar Grant III, a 22 year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family and strangers on the last day of 2008. - IMDB description

Directed by Ryan Coogler
Starring - Michael B Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Ahna O'Reilly & Kevin Durand.  


Everything's changing around me,
And I want to change too
It's one thing I know
It ain't cool being no fool
I feel different today
I don't know what else to say
But Imma get my shit together
It's now or never

- The Roots "Now or Never"

Based on a true story, this is a day in the life of Oscar Grant III, more specifically the very last day of 2008. With every new year comes new year's resolutions. We find Oscar (Michael B Jordan) in bed with his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) discussing their resolutions. She chooses to cut carbs, he chooses to quit 'selling trees'. He tries to get intimate with her but she temporarily pushes him away with repulsion, reminding him of a past cheating incident. This is the first of many reminders of how badly Oscar's fucked up in the past and just how much he has to do to regain the trust of his loved ones in order to be the man he needs to be. A family man who despite facing hard times to make ends meet, he's a family man to a happy little loving family and he wants to step up to his responsibilities. With this resolution, he chooses to lead a righteous life. A life where he will trade in drug dealing for dealing snack-packs to his daughter, T. And as the trailer song by The Roots suggests, it's now or never.

He's well surrounded by people who tough-love him and who have faith in him, like his mother (Octavia Spencer). She's protective and strong, forming a bond between the two that's gone through thick & thin and she's reason enough for Oscar to want to change. While running errands at the supermarket for his mother's birthday, we observe a great contrast in Oscar Grant between the nice, sweet, generous man who happily comes to a stranger's aid and a desperate, threatening ex-convict who's caught in a tough spot, in desperate need for a job. He can snap in and out of it with such ease (as also depicted in a flashback scene), it kind of makes you wonder which of the two possesses the best of him.

An incident with a stray pitbull becomes somewhat of a solidified epiphany for the young man. This part had me feeling like I was being shamelessly manipulated into believing that Oscar Grant was a good, caring, sensitive soul. A diamond in the rough. This part was clearly a representation of what Ryan Coogler understood Grant to be. While I don't have a hard time believing that Oscar Grant was a kind-hearted man with only but good intentions, why should we not assume the worst in people? Oscar could have been depicted as more of a wrong doer, say, by being convicted of illegal possession of a handgun (as it was in real-life but never depicted on film)  and it still wouldn't justify the final incident at hand. We don't need a saint to make this story all the more tragic. Let's imagine for a moment that this stray pitbull scene hadn't been included, in the end would you be likely to find yourself thinking he had it coming? I hope not. If you witnessed the same incident, wouldn't most of us react the same way Oscar did? Exactly.

Michael B Jordan delivers an incredible performance as a man torn between choices he needs to make in his life. He reminded me of a Denzel Washington in the making with his perfect Colgate smile. He portrayed a raw realness that despite Oscar's wrong doing, you believed in him and rooted for him until the very end and this very performance will pave the way to Jordan's bright future as a serious actor. Octavia Spencer represented a stillness that didn't put me at ease at first. But she's a believer and her faith is as strong as she. Kudos to Melonie Diaz as the 'no-more-bullshit' Sophina who despite it all stands by her man. Like Michael B Jordan, she delivered in such a genuine way, I also hope to see much more of her in the future.

The trailer captivated me. I had been anticipating this movie ever since it had been claimed as this year's Sundance Festival darling. I knew absolutely nothing surrounding the real-life events of which the film is based on and wanted to go in with no prior knowledge (maybe it's because I live under a large rock, or hide under a bridge or simply just because I'm a Canadian who doesn't keep up with the news but this was certainly big news in America) But that didn't last long and I itched to find out exactly what had actually happened from A to Z. I wish I had not peeked although it doesn't take anything away from this movie whether you know the story or not. In the words of Biggie Smalls "If you don't know now you know" the first minutes of the movie keeps you updated with shocking actual footage.

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin case, Coogler's film couldn't have come at a better time. You have to admire him that at only 26 years old, he was able to create something profoundly daring with outstanding results. He was not only trying to put a face to a victim but an entire life. Oscar Grant is not just a victim of misfortune or racial violence, however you may see it, Oscar is above all just a man. The handheld camera feel gave the film a voyeuristic documentary grain making you feel like you're going through the hardship right there along with Oscar. The onscreen glimpses of Grant's cellphone usage was a nice touch especially that cellphones play an important part in the story.  In the end, Fruitvale Station packs on the gut punches and delivers big with compact anxiety. While often times I felt like my emotions were being deliberately steered and interfered, the motives behind the event are left ambiguous to the viewer. Perhaps for them to draw their own conclusion or perhaps, because it doesn't matter in the end and it's just a matter of not forgetting a man's life. Because let's face it, this is much more effective and memorable than a mere bronze plaque on a subway station bench.

Note : This review was written over a month ago but even now, I felt this movie deserved attention during the award season. Unfortunately, it was completely snubbed.

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