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Fruitvale Station

A pervasive sense of dread fills Fruitvale Station. Based on real events, the film (* * * * out of four) begins with a chaotic and powerful opening that is instantly riveting. In the early hours of New Year's Day 2009, Twenty-two-year-old Oscar Grant is fatally shot in the back by police as he lies on the ground handcuffed and unarmed outside a Bay Area train. Captured on several cellphones, and shown here in real time, the shooting footage is like a mushroom cloud hovering over the film.

After the unsettling opener, first-time filmmaker Ryan Coogler flashes back, immersing viewers in Grant's humanity by chronicling the 24 hours leading up to his death. Though we are aware of the outcome, we can't help but hope against hope, which is testament to writer-director Coogler's multifaceted portrait. It would have been easy to turn Grant into a sacrificial lamb, glossing over his transgressions. Yet Coogler doesn't sanctify the man, who had served time for a drug conviction and cheated on the mother of his beloved young daughter.

Michael B. Jordan is superbly multi-dimensional as Grant, who dotes on 4-year-old Tatiana and is determined to be a better partner to Sophina. He sells marijuana, but is trying to clean up his act. Jordan communicates the despair and yearning that underlie Grant's streetwise charm. Jordan, who brings to mind a young Denzel Washington, nimbly taps into Grant's inherent decency, as well as his weaknesses. He's generous and warm, but also easily frustrated and wired. When he's shot there's a real sense of lost potential.

Coogler sought to capture the truths he uncovered about Grant, through public records and interviews. At the end, we learn that the officer who shot Grant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served only 11 months.

This year's big winner at the Sundance Film Festival, Fruitvale Station is a profoundly compelling, gut-wrenching and important film. It reveals a face, heart and soul behind the heartbreaking headlines.
- Claudia Puig, USA Today

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Fruitvale Station

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