High Praise for Coogler’s Fruitvale StationJuly 11, 2013 • By Sasha Stone
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.