Film note from the archives: Fruitvale Station

Summary: For Fruitvale Station to be a political film in a materialist and effectual sense, it would not matter if an audience identified with Oscar; it would not matter if he were nice or cool or cute or not; all that should matter is justice. So the sensibility here is liberal not radical. That may sit fine with some. It rubbed me the wrong way.

Originally published on Letterboxd with one like.

If the point of this film, based on a real-life shooting of an unarmed young man by a BART transit cop on New Year’s 2009, is to make me feel like beating the shit out of a group of scared law-enforcement officers, then it succeeded.

But the film spends most of its time making a flawed martyr out of the victim — one Oscar Grant, who, despite having been in jail for drug dealing, among other things, and being late to his job all the time and thus losing it, nevertheless loves his mom, his girlfriend (despite some infidelities) and especially his daughter, and is loved by his friends (who are cool with lesbians) — despite all that he only wants to do better and be a better person. He also gives away pot, buys crabs for his mom’s birthday and helps pregnant white women use the restroom on New Year’s Eve in the Embarcadero. The implication is, I guess, if that Oscar were a complete asshole, instead of a very attractive, aspiring and considerate dude in a hoody, then his shooting death would be far less tragic.

For this to be a political film in a materialist and effectual sense, it would not matter if an audience identified with Oscar; it would not matter if he were nice or cool or cute or not; all that should matter is justice. So the sensibility here is liberal not radical. That may sit fine with some. It rubbed me the wrong way.


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Oh yeah, he also loved dogs. Who get hit by cars. That makes him feel bad. So yeah, it’s terrible that a cop shot Oscar in the back. Because of that alone.

So this is primarily well-intentioned but inane manipulation from the left. It’s not really activist cinema, either, because I’m not sure what I’m called upon to do after watching it, other than to hate cops and injustice, in general. OK, fine. Done.

Only Michael B. Jordan in the lead — a real talent — manages to elevate this mechanical and simple-minded weepie-wannabe into anything more than that. Very disappointing.



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