Shots fired

This Sun­dance win­ner is hard-hit­ting in its ou­trage over a mis­car­riage of jus­tice, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

FRUIT­VALE STA­TION Di­rected by Ryan Coogler. Star­ring Michael B Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Oc­tavia Spencer

15A cert, IFI/Light House, Dublin, 84 min Three years be­fore Trayvon Martin was gunned down in Florida, a young black man lost his life in a shoot­ing at the Fruit­vale light rail sta­tion in Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia. The cir­cum­stances re­main in dis­pute, but it seems clear that a po­lice of­fi­cer shot Os­car Grant III in the back and that the 21-year-old was un­armed.

The shoot­ing has be­come one of many that high­light the risks African-Amer­i­cans run just by be­ing alive in pub­lic places. Yet the case may well have re­mained un­der­re­ported had it not been cap­tured on cam­era-phone. The of­fi­cer, who claimed he in­tended to use his Taser, was even­tu­ally con­victed of in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter. Not sur­pris­ingly, many ac­tivists re­main un­happy with the ver­dict.

Ryan Coogler’s dra­matic re­cre­ation of events leading up to the tragedy rode the wave of ou­trage to take the Grand Jury Prize at the 2013 Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val. Fruit­vale Sta­tion is an im­pres­sive piece of work. Well-acted, hu­mane and free of hys­te­ria, it of­fers a touch­ing por­trait of life in an un­der­ex­posed cor­ner of the Bay Area as it re­veals the ev­ery­day ir­ri­ta­tions that dog the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity.

The film is, per­haps, a lit­tle schematic in its char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion. There is at least one too many lum­ber­ing metaphors. But, with his first film, Coogler re­veals the right sort of chops to stay the dis­tance in this film-mak­ing lark.

We be­gin with ac­tual footage of the killing on New Year’s Day in 2009. The film then flashes back to the pre­ced­ing morn­ing to find Mr Grant (a strong Michael B Jordan) pre­par­ing him­self for his mom’s birth­day. He is de­picted as a largely de­cent sort of fel­low. Os­car loves his daugh­ter and, though he ad­mits to in­fi­deli­ties, he re­mains at­tached to the girl’s mother (Melonie Diaz).

It tran­spires that Os­car has been con­ceal­ing im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion from his loved ones. Hav­ing turned up late once too of­ten, he has lost his job at the lo­cal su­per­mar­ket and is fail­ing in his ef­forts to per­suade the owner to re­lent.

Later, as he pre­pares to hit the town, Grant’s mom per­suades him to take the train rather than drive his car. It’s a poignant mo­ment that we sus­pect will res­onate in the film’s later sec­tions.

Shot with a mo­bile cam­era that races to keep up with its hurtling pro­tag­o­nist, the film makes good use of its tal­ented ac­tors. Oc­tavia Spencer is charis­matic and touch­ing as Grant’s mother. Jordan is con­sis­tently nat­u­ral­is­tic. Our aware­ness of im­pend­ing doom adds men­ace to scenes that might other­wise seem in­con­se­quen­tial.

Yet Fruit­vale Sta­tion does not wholly con­vince. It’s hard to es­cape the no­tion that the film’s ver­sion of Grant has been care­fully cal­i­brated to be just nice enough to scare up em­pa­thy and just mis­chievous enough to take some pol­ish of his char­ac­ter. He’s done some bad things, but he now seems to be sort­ing out his life.

This is a very neat state of af­fairs for a film that, else­where, trades in a school of nat­u­ral­ism that sug­gests early Ken Loach. An un­for­tu­nate scene in­volv­ing an in­jured dog ges­tures to­wards the fore­told catas­tro­phe in the clum­si­est and least sub­tle of fash­ions. Coogler does still seem to be find­ing his feet as a film-maker.

For all that, Fruit­vale Sta­tion comes into in its own dur­ing a fi­nal tragic de­noue­ment that man­ages to spring sur­prises as it walks us through ac­ci­dent and ou­trage. The film has much to say about the un­equal na­ture of Amer­i­can so­ci­ety. But it also has de­press­ing lessons about the ar­bi­trary na­ture of so many hu­man tragedies.

If only Os­car had got on an­other car­riage. If only he’d taken his car. Life can be a wretched busi­ness. piece. Healy even­tu­ally of­fers up his fin­ger for an im­plau­si­bly mea­gre sum. An un­likely cook­ery se­quence hap­pens way too quickly. Koech­ner doesn’t quite make a hu­man be­ing of the ma­nip­u­la­tive monster. But the film-mak­ers’ undis­guised glee in the re­volt­ing cat­a­logue of hor­rors is a de­light to be­hold, and the sense of naked mis­an­thropy is queasily in­vig­o­rat­ing through­out.

We hold one a half-thumbs (very cau­tiously) aloft.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.