Fruitvale Station (R)

Michael B. Jordan stars in 'Fruitvale Station.'
Michael B. Jordan stars in 'Fruitvale Station.'

Movie Info

Rating: * * * 

Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Ariana Neal, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray.

Writer-director: Ryan Coogler.

Producers: Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker.

A Weinstein Co. release. Running time: 85 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, brief violence, drug use, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.

Fruitvale Station opens with a cellphone video, one of many shot in the early hours of Jan. 1, 2009 and later posted online. We see a group of young men sitting against a wall at a subway platform in Oakland, Calif. Uniformed officers are interrogating them in a threatening manner. When one tries to stand up, he is forcibly pushed to the ground face down, his hands behind his back, a policeman’s knee crushing his head. The shouts of outraged onlookers grow louder, complaining about excessive force. Then another officer suddenly draws his gun and shoots the helpless man in the back. The crowd’s anger instantly turns into horrified shock. They can’t believe what they’ve just seen. And neither can you.

From there, writer-director Ryan Coogler turns back the clock 24 hours to reenact the last day in the life of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan). He argues with his live-in girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) about his womanizing and promises never to do it again. He dotes on his young daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal), whom he adores. He tries to get his job back at the grocery store where he was fired two weeks ago for being late, but the boss tells him he’s already hired a replacement. His sister calls, asking him if he can help her with the rent, because she’s working double shifts and is still short. He considers selling marijuana for some quick cash but dumps the weed into the ocean after remembering what life was like in prison. He visits his mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer) to celebrate her birthday. He runs various errands.

And because you know what’s coming and that this is the last day of his life, everything Oscar does, no matter how ordinary, takes on incredible gravity. In his first film, Coogler, who is only 27, takes a neorealist approach to the story, using mundane details to illuminate the inner lives of his characters. Although the shooting resulted in riots in the Oakland area, the movie is compassionate and mournful instead of angry or fiery. Whatever role prejudice have played a part in the shooting — Oscar and his friends were black, and the officers were white — Fruitvale Station refuses to turn the incident into a statement on race and divisiveness. The director goes out of his way to show Oscar interacting with white strangers in two long scenes, avoiding the sort of inflammatory cliches common in lame-brained movies such as Crash.

The performances are superb. Jordan ( The Wire, Friday Night Lights) convincingly captures all the facets of Oscar, a complicated man who was equally comfortable defending himself in prison as he was spending time with his family. Diaz ( Raising Victor Vargas) makes a perfect foil as his girlfriend, allowing you to see why she stayed with Oscar despite his repeated troubles: His nobility and innate goodness outweighed his flaws.

And Spencer elevates the film with her portrayal of Oscar’s mother, a woman capable of doling out the toughest kind of love when her son he veered toward a life of crime, but was also there to help him when he needed her. She’s the one who suggested Oscar and Sophina take the Bay Area Rapid Transit train into San Francisco to watch the fireworks that night, worried that they would probably be drinking too much to drive home. The irony is enormous.

Coogler occasionally overplays his hand: The scene in which Oscar says goodbye to his daughter for what we know will be the last time is prolonged to the point of overkill, and there’s a slow-motion flashback late in the film that feels like a hammer pounding on your head. But the lasting impression Fruitvale Station leaves you with is of a young black man’s imperfect life that acknowledges, then transcends all cultural and racial stereotypes — a life that was tragically cut too short.

Read more Reeling with Rene Rodriguez stories from the Miami Herald

 <span class="cutline_leadin">What’s the secret?</span> Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites are a brother and sister trying to solve the mystery of a demonic mirror in ‘Oculus.’

    Oculus (R)

    Mirrors have been as much of a fixture in horror movies as knives and cats that suddenly jump from the shadows. But they’re best in cameos, as in the ending of Dressed to Kill or the bathroom scene in The Shining. Oculus revolves entirely around an ornate mirror that is, what, a gateway to hell? A summoning force for evil spirits? A really ugly piece of furniture from a medieval Pottery Barn?

Iko Uwais and Cecep Arif Rahman square off in a scene from ‘The Raid 2.’

    The Raid 2 (R)

    Every time you think The Raid 2 can’t possibly top itself, writer-director Gareth Evans goes “Oh, yeah? Watch this.” Most of 2011’s The Raid: Redemption took place inside a tenement raided by a SWAT team to apprehend a mobster and his squad of killers holed up inside. Practically no one survived the movie — the violence was astonishing — but the contained setting and the idea of having events grow hairier for the good guys the higher they went in the building gave the tight 101-minute movie a sense of compressed, relentless action. Now comes The Raid 2 (known as The Raid 2: Bernadal in its native Indonesia), which is far more expansive and complicated, and runs almost 2 ½ hours. Miraculously, the new picture makes the old one feel like Evans was just warming up.

A sexual addict (Charlotte Gainsbourg) visits a therapist (Jamie Bell) with unorthodox methods to try to help get over her compulsion in ‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2’

    NYMPHOMANIAC VOL. 2 (unrated)

    Nymphomaniac Vol. 2 (unrated)

    Things get really kinky in Nymphomaniac Vol. 2, the second chapter in director Lars von Trier’ epic-length saga about a woman who can’t get enough. If you saw Vol. 1, which ended with our perpetually horny heroine Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) losing all feeling in her sexual organs, you might be wondering, “How could this movie outdo the first one?” To quote the great Bachman-Turner Overdrive, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category