SPOILER ALERT: I cannot review Fruitvale Station without giving away the ending, so if you’re planning to see it and don’t want to know what happens, you might want to stop here.
All the reviewers seem to be going ape for Fruitvale Station, and the two women I discussed it with did, too. But I can’t see any more in it than a long prologue followed by a printed epilogue. There’s no movie in between.
What we have is the last day in the life of a young black man who was killed by an Oakland, Calif. policeman in 2009. Writer-director Ryan Coogler shows us this much very well. It’s all completely believable, with likeable characters behaving the way real people do, and situations we can sympathize with even when we can’t entirely approve. It’s all supposed to be true and I can believe it is.
But there is no development to give me a feeling that we are going anywhere. Michael B. Jordan is outstanding as our hero, who is liked or loved by everybody despite some character flaws. He has a record as a minor drug dealer and is thinking of going back to the trade, but only because he has been fired from his job and can’t get another one. He loves his four-year-old daughter and is very good with children, but he has little self-control and a hair-trigger temper. And his girlfriend and his mother, who both love him, are losing patience with him as a provider and father figure for the daughter.
And then he gets into a fight at Fruitvale Station and a policeman kills him.
Everything after this is told by printed subtitles, not shown. Especially in these days of the Martin-Zimmerman case, we need to know the end of the story.