Fruitvale Station (Blu-ray)

January 8, 2014 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Movies that have been ripped from the headlines have always intrigued me. I tend to think to myself “what if this hadn’t have happened?” Well I guess we wouldn’t have a movie.  But it’s part of me that wonders “what if…” that makes them so interesting for me to watch.  A few years ago I reviewed a movie called Julie & Julia with Amy Adams and Meryl Streep.  The film followed a blogger by the name of Julie Powell who made it her mission to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s first book.  She eventually gained a huge following and, wouldn’t you know it, her story was then a movie.  In much the same way, so is Fruitvale Station.  Granted the plots couldn’t be more different, but it’s the reality of the story that makes it intriguing. Admittedly I’d never heard of Oscar Grant and this tragedy, but director Ryan Cogler, a Bay area resident himself, wrote and directed it with such heart – the viewer feels like they’re right there.

The movie opens as we see actual cell phone video of the incident.  The clip ends with a literal bang and we’re then transported back a day where we meet Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and their child. The film doesn’t praise Oscar or attempt to make him a martyr. He’s done time in jail, he both uses and sells drugs and it’s been insinuated by Sophina that he’s been unfaithful to her.  He’s no saint.  But he’s also got a good side; one that led him to move a dead dog out of the road or help a stranger with her cookout.  He’s not a bad guy, per se – just never been given the breaks that others have.  His mother (Octavia Spencer), does her best to look out for him.  As the day progresses, we see the sequence of events that will lead up to his eventual demise.  Planning to celebrate the New Year with Sophina in San Fransisco, does he drive in or take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)?  One of many choices that could have been – should have been.

Fruitvale Station isn’t an easy movie to watch.  It’s gripping, taut and the subject matter isn’t the easiest to stomach.  Watching one of the featurettes, actor Michael B. Jordan tells us that they shot the ending scene at Fruitvale Station. He was laying on the brick (which still had the bullet hole in the tile that killed him) in which Oscar was shot.  How’s that for realistic?  Granted, the events of the day are probably somewhat stylized, but the ending most certainly isn’t.  We get a good feel for Oscar, who he is, what he wants out of life and what he’s trying to do to change that.  Oscar Grant’s death enraged the Bay Area back in 2009 and now that it’s been 5 years after the incident, the emotions are still present.  The officer who shot him was sentenced to jail and was charged with Involuntary Manslaughter, but somehow it didn’t seem like it was enough. In truth, had Oscar Grant not perished on Jan. 1, 2009 we wouldn’t know who he was.  But things happen for a reason and if his story can help someone else – maybe in a roundabout way it was meant to be?

Video: How’s it look?

This was the first movie I watched with my new Blu-ray player, so I wasn’t sure how it would compare with my other one.  Granted, all things considered, it should be about the same, but I try to be as objective as possible. Fruitvale Station is a pretty low-buget movie and right off the bat, I noticed a layer of grain that’s really not present on other Blu-ray’s.  The 1.78:1 AVC HD image did have some moments of clarity, but by and large the image maintained the fine layer of grain throughout.  Colors seemed a bit on the washed out side, but there were a few instances (the scene with the dog) that really seemed to “pop.”  Black levels seemed to be on the mark and aside from the grain, I noticed nothing out of the ordinary. Contrast is spot on as well.  It’s nice to see a movie where it’s not glossed over, rather this seemed to make it feel a bit more real. I liked that.

Audio: How’s it sound?

The box says the movie contains a DTS HD Master Audio track and, yes, it does – but it feels more like a surround mix.  The majority of Oscar’s dialogue is spoken in mumbles and slang which I had to kind of stretch to both hear and understand. I realize that was the intent, but if you’re looking for a movie that will sound crisp, clean and engage all of your speakers well, this isn’t it.  There are a few moments where the surrounds kick in for some extra atmosphere, but the front stage handles most of the mix.  Again, it’s nice to not have a polished sound mix that sounds like every other movie out there. For me, this made the movie seem a bit more realistic and I’m sure that was the idea.

Supplements: What are the extras?

One of the most acclaimed films of last year, Fruitvale Station doesn’t come to Blu-ray sporting a lot of extras.

  • Fruitvale Station: The Story of Oscar Grant – This 20 minute featurette takes a look at the story of Oscar Grant and we get insight from Writer/Director Ryan Coogler as he discusses his inspiration for the film. We also get some insight from stars Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz and Michael B. Jordan.
  • Q & A With the Cast and Filmmakers – I hesitate to say this is “more of the same” as we get a lot of the same information as above, but this is literally the cast on stage answering some questions from the audience.
  • DVD/UltraViolet Copy

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