As far as biopics go, Fruitvale Station is largely rather tame. The film largely takes place over the course of one 24-hour period where very little that could be deemed important happens. But Fruitvale Station is less a biopic and more a message movie, as illustrated by the film’s opening scene: real-life cell phone footage of the murder of Oscar Grant by police officers. That scene, recreated as the narrative of the story reaches its climax, is what makes the rest of the film matter. It illustrates how suddenly, and unexpectedly, things can go wrong. The climax wouldn’t hit so hard if the wrong actor was portraying Oscar; fortunately, Michael B. Jordan delivers a deep, rich performance that elevates the material. Going by the script, the film seems to take pains to make Oscar look as good as possible. Jordan’s performance, though, shows a more complex character. He’s assisted by a talented supporting cast, including Octavia Spencer as Oscar’s mother. Since winning an Oscar for her role in The Help, Spencer has impressed me with the range of roles she’s taken. Her take on Wanda in this film is downplayed, even in the face of her son’s death. It’s a remarkably restrained performance. Both Jordan and Spencer are worthy Oscar contenders here.
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