Fruitvale Station arrived in Cannes last night fresh from its triumph at the Sundance film festival in January, where it won the Grand Jury Prize, taking the now-annual slot previously given to the likes of Precious and Beasts Of The Southern Wild. However, although it is extraordinarily well made for a debut feature and boasts a career-making performance from Chronicle's Michael B Jordan, Ryan Coogler's film doesn't quite have the same breakout potential of those other two. Both Coogler and his leading man will certainly get deserved festival attention for the rest of 2013, but it's hard to see Fruitvale Station as a commercial proposition outside of the US.
Based on a true story, the film begins with cameraphone footage of police arresting and intimidating a group of African-Americans in Oakland, California. Tensions escalate, a shot is fired, and we backtrack through 24 hours in the life of the victim, a local man named Oscar Grant (Jordan). Grant is a smalltime drug dealer with a girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) and a daughter he dotes on, and after losing his job in a supermarket he realises it's time to straighten his life out. Though somewhat fictionalised, the film fleshes out Grant's relationship with his immediate family and friends, sketching a portrait of a flawed but nevertheless decent man whose potential was never realised.
Aside from Jordan there is also the excellent Octavia Spencer as Grant's long-suffering mother, whose tough love inspires Grant to shoulder his responsibilities, while Diaz, often wasted in thankless roles, gets a chance to show what she can really do here. It is, however, Jordan's show, and he presents Grant as a hugely sympathetic individual cursed with a fierce pride he can't seem to control.
When the film really hits its stride in the last 20 minutes, this is where Fruitvale Station finally becomes gripping. For the most part, sadly, it keeps our attention by dint of the huge stormcloud that hovers throughout, but despite the film's narrative limitation, it is clear that Coogler is a very talented director whose next film should be very interesting indeed.
Fruitvale Station is set for a limited release in the US come July 12.