Monday, August 5, 2013

Fruitvale Station

Last Thursday I saw Fruitvale Station after listening to a Bill Simmons interview with Michael B. Jordan, who plays Oscar Grant (and who played Wallace in The Wire). Grant was killed on January 1, 2009 by a Bay Area Rapid Transit security officer at the Fruitvale subway station in Oakland.

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I did not know about Oscar Grant prior to this movie. He is portrayed as a very sympathetic (if flawed) character. Like Daisy in Sisterland, Oscar has a young child, on whom he dotes. I am discovering that at this point in my life, I particularly like movies and books about parenthood.

Jordan's acting is powerful: he shows Grant having a range of different demeanors and perspectives ("masks"?), depending on the context and the person to whom he is talking. Grant is incredibly devoted to his mother, yet he has a temper that can be dangerously uncontrollable.

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Although the shooting is very clearly portrayed as unjustified, there is some level of ambiguity about the climactic scene and how the incident unfolded. This scene shows the complexity of narrative (and echoes the different perspectives on what happened between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman).

My major problem with the movie is the one identified by several critics: there are too many story-telling artifices (such as the white woman whom Grant befriends at the grocery story, who inadvertently starts the subway fight).  These artifices clutter or detract from the tragedy at the center of the story.

Given how powerful the movie is, however, I am reluctant to complain about its flaws: Oscar Grant is one of the more fully-illustrated people from any movie I've seen, and I will not forget his story.

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