Fruitvale Station seems to have been released around the perfect time (all unplanned, of course). Similar to the Trayvon Martin verdict, director Ryan Coogler does a beautiful job of balancing a political statement and truthfully portraying what happened to Oscar Grant.
Based on the true story of Oscar Grant (played by actor Michael B. Jordan), the independent drama film depicts the news that caused riots and protests days after the event in 2009. Named after the stop in Oakland on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, the movie shows 22-year-old Grant on his way home from celebrating New Year’s Eve who was then shot in the back by a white BART policeman for reasons that are still unknown. Later in court, the policeman claims he was reaching for his Taser. People question who confuses a Taser for a real gun and we’re still waiting for that answer. Because this is the 21st century, it was all caught on video with bystanders’ cell phones. The movie itself opens with a clip of real cellphone footage of the shooting that at times is blurry and confusing, but the gunshot is loud and clear. The opening scene automatically allows the audience to know how this movie ends. Yet, it’s the reactions like “What just happened?,” “Why?,” and “What now?” that keep the audience watching the tense and dramatic scenes. The movie depicts the last day of Grant’s life intermixed with flashbacks from his past.
With a mixture of compassion and subtlety by Jordan, Grant walks a thin line towards being a good guy. Although he served time in prison, was late so often to work it cost him his job, and when his girlfriend Sophia (Melonie Diaz) calls him out on being with other women, he doesn’t bother to deny it, there is one thing that makes the audience care for Grant. His love and devotion to his daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal) is undeniably true and he tries his best to help out his single mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer). Grant is trying his hardest to get his life together, and despite knowing the ending, it’s hard not to root for him.
Despite this, there are small moments that foreshadow Grant’s fate. His mother suggests he take the subway because it’s safer, and when Grant is dropping off his daughter, she asks if the loud bangs outside are gunshots. Grant promises they’re fireworks, everything will be fine and he’ll return. But the audience knows the subway isn’t safe, leading to Grant’s death by Officers Caruso and Ingram (Kevin Durand and Chad Michael Murray respectively).
Each actor does an amazing job to portray the events with human warmth. Coogler focuses more on the characters to bring human elements into the story, allowing for a bigger picture to be formed at the end of the movie. Fruitvale Station tells the tale of a contemporary African American whose story demands to be heard. While the movie can, and probably does, serve as an example of racially charged police brutality, Grant’s story is at first and foremost a human tragedy. Coogler and the cast keep this in mind and deliver a movie that deserves all the recognition it’s receiving.