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High Praise for Coogler’s Fruitvale Station

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Fruitvale Station opens tomorrow to rave reviews from (what’s left of) the major film critics.

The Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan writes:

Made with assurance and deep emotion, “Fruitvale Station” is more than a remarkable directing debut for 26-year-old Ryan Coogler. It’s an outstanding film by any standard.

Featuring a leap-to-stardom performance by Michael B. Jordan, “Fruitvale’s” demonstration of how effective understated, naturalistic filmmaking is at conveying even the most incendiary reality is as hopeful as the story it tells is despairing.

“Fruitvale” won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at Sundance, as well as the Un Certain Regard Prize of the Future at Cannes, and its story is a true one, a narrative that created national shock waves when it happened.

Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman:

Coogler’s simple, powerful strategy is to dramatize Grant’s life during the 24 hours leading up to his death. After showing cell-phone video of the actual murder, he draws his camera in close to Oscar, played by Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle) as a flawed, complex ex-convict who fools around on his partner (Melonie Diaz) but loves her tenderly; sells drugs but is trying, with half a heart, to go straight; and is a good daddy to his daughter. Jordan’s performance is grippingly subtle: He shows us the despair that’s ruling Oscar, the street ‘tude he puts on like armor, and the joy that comes out only when he’s at the home of his mother (Octavia Spencer). Coogler immerses us in this life, so that when it’s cut short, you won’t just weep, you’ll cry out in protest. Fruitvale Station is great political filmmaking because it’s great filmmaking, period. A

The New York Times’ AO Scott writes:

There is a natural, easy sweetness to Oscar, but neither Mr. Coogler’s script nor Mr. Jordan’s performance sugarcoats his temperament. He is, for one thing, irresponsible and not always honest, unable to admit to Sophina or Wanda that he has been fired from his supermarket job for chronic lateness. Even after two stints in prison (one visited in the film’s only chronological digression), he is still selling drugs, and his vows to stop have the feel of New Year’s resolutions, inspiring more hope than confidence.

A few moments lean a bit too hard on our dread-filled foreknowledge of Oscar’s tragic end. The lost dog he encounters at a gas station might as well have “Metaphor” stamped on its collar. But Mr. Coogler, with a ground-level, hand-held shooting style that sometimes evokes the spiritually alert naturalism of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, has enough faith in his actors and in the intrinsic interest of the characters’ lives to keep overt sentimentality and messagemongering to a minimum. You get the sense that he might have made this movie even if the world had not handed him a terrible true story, and made any day in the life of Oscar Grant into a sad, touching and subtle film.

And, in truth, Mr. Coogler has made that movie, even as he has also made one full of anger, grief and frustration. His main intention — and his great achievement, as well as Mr. Jordan’s — is to make Oscar a fully human presence, to pay him the respect of acknowledging his complexities and contradictions. The radicalism of “Fruitvale Station” lies precisely here, in its refusal to turn a man into a symbol. Nearly every black man, whether or not he is president, tends to be flattened out by popular culture and the psychopathology of everyday American life, rendered as an innocent victim, a noble warrior or a menace to society. There is a dehumanizing violence in this habit, a willed, toxic blindness that “Fruitvale Station” at once exposes and resists.

The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern:

Ryan Coogler’s magnificent “Fruitvale Station” opens with a shaky cellphone video of a now-infamous event—the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant, a black, unarmed 22-year-old, by a white transit cop at a BART station in Oakland, Calif., in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009. In other hands, the video might have been the starting point of a documentary about the victim, the disputed facts of the event and the community outrage that the shooting provoked. But Mr. Coogler chose another approach, a dramatized account of the day in Oscar’s life that preceded his death, and the film celebrates that life in all its beauty, contradiction and thwarted promise.

10 Comments on this Post

  1. Curtis

    It also has an 93 on rotten tomatoes with an 8/10 avg and a 95 with top critics with an outstanding 8.8/10 rating. With a BFCA score of 88 I think it’s safe to say the cast and crew better get there Oscar suits ready.

  2. Bryce Forestieri

    Damn these individual scores are impressive (don’t care much about the average) 6 100’s I’m in. I had dismissed this film based on the plot alone and anticipated not going to see when it came out, but it seems I was foolish. Plus two new developments that don’t have anything to do with the film, but are nonetheless worth mentioning:

    1. Andrew Garfield has the hots for Michael B. Jordan calling for some “interracial bisexuality”.

    2. I’m calling it now. Ryan Coogler is the hottest sexiest filmmaker ever. Not that there are others who are hot, there aren’t. That boy should be in front of the camera.

    I just hope it’s good good and not PRECIOUS good

  3. Wow, I’m so excited to see this! The reviews so far seem so glowing:)

  4. Good. To. Hear.

  5. julian the emperor

    Curiously, I think the negative reviews are more interesting and revealing than the positive ones. It seems like the positive reviews are struggling to really communicate what’s so good about the film (it seems like they want it to be good, more than anything), whereas the dissenters line up some really valid arguments for why FS doesn’t exactly work.

    Still, excited to see this (if it ever catches these shores)

  6. johnderek

    Im from East Oakland, now living in Atlanta..and you know what..bravo to all those brave souls who created this movie, because it represents so many young black men, who want to do better, but aren’t sure how, so they resort bsck, regress…no safety net for black boys…so many find the streets and blue eye with black guns.

  7. It seems like these types of comments are always prevalent when there ‘s a Black cast and director involved. Dont all movies get positive and negative reviews? Why are we only questioning the positive reviews of this film.

  8. smoothcriminal

    So happy that Michael B. Jordan is getting such rave reviews, he is such an incredible actor and really elevates whatever he’s in. He was the only believable character in Parenthood and I loved him in FNL and Chronicle, and of course, the Wire. I really hope this is the start of a huge run of great roles for him, that ends with bisexual Andrew Garfield Spiderman:P

  9. Bryce Forestieri

    Just the nature of negative reviews. I suspect they wanted him to be more gritty, I mean the protagonist. Who reads reviews before seeing a movie anyways? Let alone survey them. In any case I don’t respect the majority of critics included in Metacritic. Also we in America tend to be more tolerant, understanding, and admiring of how the Europeans deal with race themes in film (e.g. LA HAINE) while over there they tend to just dismiss our efforts. Just pointing this out because I heard from someone else who “surveyed” the reaction to this film at Cannes.

  10. julian the emperor

    I think some reviewers question the story arc of Jordan’s character. Is it a credible portrayal?

    But I guess you’re right with regards to Europeans being skeptical of how American films portray these issues. There is a very firm didactic effort on behalf of most American directors when they tackle social/racial issues. Which, occasionally, results in terrible films like Crash and Precious. The didacticism sucks the life out of them.

    Btw, I’m not questioning the positive reviews per se (how could I?), but I have noticed a tendency among top reviewers in America to be very positive toward awards players in general.
    And metacritic further simplifies things by handing out perfect 100 scores every single time a major critic has something nice to say, which distorts the overall score as well.

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