Review by Fritz Esker
Movies that win the Academy Award for Best Picture usually have a variety of things going for them.More often than not, the film is at least pretty good (although a few aren't).But there is also a timing element to it.For example, The Departed is not Martin Scorsese's best film (it may not even be one of his five best films), but it is a good film that happened to 1) come out in a year without stiff competition and 2) come near the end of Scorsese's magnificent career, which voters probably felt like finally validating with Oscars.While it's too early in the year to fully grasp the level of competition, it certainly seems like the chips are in place for Fruitvale Station to at least secure a Best Picture nomination, if not the award itself.
Writer/director Ryan Coogler makes his feature film debut with this story of the last day in the life of Oscar Grant (strongly played by Michael B. Jordan of The Wire and Friday Night Lights), a 22-year-old-man who was fatally shot by a transit cop at the titular station early in the morning on New Year's Day in 2009.Many passengers on the trained filmed the incident with smart phones, resulting in a murder charge for the officer (Grant was unarmed and being held to the ground by other officers when he was shot in the back) and a conviction for involuntary manslaughter.
Coogler's script takes place in the span of Oscar's final 24 hours with one flashback scene.Admirably, the film does not paint Oscar as a saintly martyr.He's a philanderer with an arrest record and a temper.But the movie also paints him as a loving father and son.The final 20 minutes (the film runs for only 85) are both suspenseful and sad to watch.
However, with the exception of the finale, the film is never riveting.It's a compelling story competently told, but it never blows you away the way a great film does.But since its release coincides will the Trayvon Martin/George Zimerman case, the film has the added strength of timeliness, which is having the effect of making people think this is a great film, even though it falls a little short of that. This may sound like nitpicking, and it is, because Fruitvale Station is indeed a good film worth seeing.But when talking about what are truly the best films in a given year, nitpicking is necessary.It's a well-made film with noble intentions, but it's not one of the best films of the year.Only time will tell how voters feel during award season.