Fruitvale was the winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and audience award this year at the Sundance Film Festival. It is easy to understand why. Fruitvale (based the tragedy of Oscar Grant) is an emotionally wrought journey that gives the viewer a look into the life of Oscar on the final day of his life before he was senselessly killed by a police officer at the Fruitvale Bart stop. First time writer/director Ryan Coogler captures some truly beautiful moments that are all the more heartbreaking because one knows where Oscar will eventually end up. Yet for all the critical praise it’s been receiving Fruitvale never manages to transcend conventional narrative structure or slightly emotionally manipulative story beats. Coogler plays it relatively safe, which in retrospect is a bit of a disappointment. This is not to say Fruitvale is a bad film. It is a film that brings to light an injustice that not will now reach more eyes and ears. It is a film where the characters ring true. And, perhaps most importantly, it is a film that humanizes those who are often seen by society as menaces or as dangers by showing them to be the complex human beings that they are.
Drake Doremus’s third feature is an interesting film that at times works marvelously and at others falls flat. It is a much more mature and serious film than his previous outing (Sundance favorite Like, Crazy), which gives me hope for Doremus future career. Guy Pierce’s performance is the highlight of the film as Keith, a disgruntled high school music teacher and family man. He loves his wife and daughter, but internally life has taken a stale turn for Keith. Things change when Sophie, an artistically gifted foreign exchange student, comes to stay with them. She ignites old artistic passions within Keith forcing his mid-life crisis to take on physical manifestations with grave implications. The first hour is quiet, introspective, and tonally compelling. Where Breathe In falters is when Sophie becomes more than just a reminder of the past for Keith, but also a romantic partner. Despite the talented cast one never quite believes this strange jump and the film becomes more melodramatic from this point on culminating in a predictable conclusion that wraps things up a bit too quickly. The music is beautiful though and the Breathe In does attempt to be a unique entry in the unrequited love genre, even if it doesn’t fully succeed.
This concludes my reviews of this years Sundance. Later this week my reviews of We Are What We Are and Big Sur will go up on The Alternative Chronicle along with a reflection on the powerful God Loves Uganda. I also hope to finish up a reflection on Travis Matthews thought-provoking Interior.Leather Bar by the end of this week
There have been a lot of interesting articles this year about Sundance 2013, but the best I’ve read is Indiewires discussion of the popular topic of sexuality in the films this year at Sundance. Check it out: