2013, Movies

Fruitvale Station (2013, Ryan Coogler)

This is an affecting portrait of the other side of the police shootings we hear so often hear about in the news. The media, and so many people we know, usually appear to take the side of the police, almost as a matter of course, without even wanting to understand what may have happened. Though obviously there may be occasions where police shootings are justified, anyone who believes in strong liberties / freedoms in a democracy must, as a matter of course assume most police shootings are a symptom of ineffective policing.

This film takes one such incident and shows us the human cost of just one of these fatal shootings. (And, it doesn’t even show the whole human cost, as there is little accounting for the remorse the officer(s) may have felt.) On the whole, the film is well-made and is centred around some very strong performances. Though we know the end from the very beginning – even with knowing nothing about the film – it is so much more affecting because of the performances and because of the family and friends we experience.

There are two flaws, one major and one less so:

  • The minor flaw is that the film suffers from the usual “cinema verite” approach which, at this point, is done to death. But I could have overlooked that.
  • The big thing keeping this film from being a masterpiece and a landmark is the contrived nature of the lead’s last day. I don’t know how much of it was invented and how much of it was just conflated from other days in his life, but this guy’s last day has to be one of the most eventful days in his life. It’s just too eventful, full of life decisions and opportunities. It would have been nice if the filmmakers had trusted their audience to experience snippets of just an average day that also happened to be his mother’s birthday. Instead, it reeks too much of the victim’s family’s desires imposed upon the now dead young adult.

Anyway, this is still worth seeing, especially if you are one of those people who think that anyone shot by police “deserved it.” It would be nice if we could all put ourselves in other people’s shoes once in a while.


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