“Fruitvale Station” Casting Review

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Fruitvale Station is a realistic and painful glimpse at the senseless tragedies that seem to plague our society. Specifically, the film focuses on the true story of Oscar Grant, a young African American man who was killed by a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police officer at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland, California in 2008.

Going into the film, you already know how it’s going to end, and even if you aren’t familiar with the story of Oscar Grant, the film actually opens with real footage taken by spectators from the incident, which is truly chilling and not for the feint of heart. Because of how the narrative is set up here, Fruitvale Station is absolutely an actor-driven piece, and truly hinges on the cast’s performance to breathe life into their characters and accentuate the tragedy and circumstances surrounding the incident—making the casting of this movie all the more crucial. Thankfully, you’ll be glad to know that the actors assembled in this piece are truly outstanding and won’t disappoint.

Actor Michael B. Jordan plays the titular character “Oscar Grant”, and gives a performance that deserves award recognition. As previously mentioned, because the story is already laid out for you, Jordan’s acting is truly the focal point of the film and helps to anchor all of the supporting characters too. Jordan’s performance is naturalistic and real, and simply shows that Oscar, although not perfect by any means, was genuinely a good person and was really trying to do right by his family. Although Jordan is not a stranger to Hollywood by any means (worked in television for years), he is quickly rising in the world of feature films, and with Fruitvale Station, definitely proves that he is a leading man capable of carrying an entire movie. Jordan’s breakout performance here only further validates the power of the Friday Night Lights effect, and he is one of the many alums from the critically acclaimed television series to find continued and greater success since the show ended in 2011. He joins the likes of Taylor Kitsch, Adrianne Palicki, Scott Porter, Connie Britton, and Kyle Chandler to name a few.

Besides Jordan, the supporting cast in Fruitvale Station all help lend their talents to the realness and tragedy of the film’s story. Academy Award-winner Octavia Spencer plays “Wanda”, Oscar’s mother, and although she has a naturally strong presence whenever she’s on camera, she never pulls focus from Oscar. Spencer also manages to fully flesh out the character of Wanda, and you are actually able to get a sense of what kind of mother she is. She’s religious and loving, but knows exactly when she needs to be stern and direct—especially when it comes to Oscar. Thankfully, Wanda isn’t just your typical grieving mother in this film—she’s strong, independent, and adds her own perspective to the events leading up to Oscar’s death.

Rounding out the rest of the family—Melonie Diaz plays Oscar’s girlfriend “Sophina” while Ariana Neal plays “Tatiana”, Oscar and Sophina’s young daughter. Interestingly, Diaz’s Sophina is significantly colder and less likeable than Oscar. She’s not mean or a bad mother by any means, she is simply just not as energetic and warm as Oscar. Conversely, Ariana Neal’s Tatiana more closely resembles Oscar’s personality, and is outgoing and easily likeable. A newcomer to the acting world, Neal is a cute little scene-stealer, and shows a level of emotional range and depth that isn’t common in child actors her age. She also has great onscreen chemistry with Oscar, and their father-daughter relationship is probably the most compelling relationship in the entire film—for good reason. Wanda, Sophina, and Tatiana blend together seamlessly with Oscar to create a believable family dynamic. Wanda and Sophina’s personalities offer a good juxtaposition to the more happy-go-lucky Oscar and Tatiana, which all helps to further accentuate how nice of a guy Oscar really was—making his death all the more tragic.

Finally, it’s important to note the performances of actors Ahna O’Reilly, Kevin Durand, and Chad Michael Murray. O’Reilly (who worked with Octavia Spencer on The Help), plays “Katie”, a friendly local girl who meets Oscar at the supermarket before running into him again on the train. Although her character is relatively minor in the film, O’Reilly definitely pops on screen and makes her moments count. Her character in the story can be interpreted in multiple ways, but overall, she really helps to further show how Oscar’s kind heart. Durand and Michael Murray then play the two BART police officers that arrest and eventually shoot Oscar. Durand plays the overbearing and aggressive “Officer Caruso” while Michael Murray plays the more reserved and wide-eyed “Officer Ingram”. Wisely, the film gives these two characters just enough screen time and presence to establish the events leading up to the incident without giving weight to any of the real world speculation surrounding the officers, i.e., the film doesn’t make the officers out as the “villains”, nor does it show that the shooting was a complete accident. Interestingly, even though Michael Murray is widely recognizable, it’s quite possible that you won’t even recognize him as Officer Ingram (the officer that actually shot Oscar)—that’s how much emphasis the film places on the officers.

Movies based on true events, especially recent ones, have to always tread lightly since they have multiples interests to keep in mind. These films have to pay proper attention to detail in their storytelling, and even though elements will obviously be fictionalized, the overall message of the piece shouldn’t stray too far or undermine what actually happened or else the movie and those involved will come under fire by the general public, and the real world people that the movie is based on. Through a mix of recognizable and relatively unknown actors, the cast of Fruitvale Station helps to shed light on a senseless tragedy through powerfully simple storytelling and standout acting performances.

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Kyle

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