Written by Guillermo Troncoso.
Fruitvale Station kicks off with actual cell-phone footage taken during the early hours of January 1st, 2009. Police officers have detained a group of young men at the titular station. It’s hard to tell exactly what is going on, but chaos quickly unfolds between the men and the officers. Suddenly, a gun shot rings out.
The opening hits like a ton of bricks, setting up the emotional dread that will stick with the viewer throughout the entire film.
For those unaware, Fruitvale Station is based on the death on Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old young man who was killed by a police officer while handcuffed. Protests and proclamations of racial violence followed. A political and social whirlwind emphasized by the already volatile perception of racist, trigger-happy police offers. The real-life officer claims that it was simply an accident – he had intended to pull out his taser instead. Whatever the details surrounding the incident may be, the overall facts of that night remain firmly in place.
After the hard-hitting opening, we’re thrown back to Oscar’s previous day. Importantly, Oscar isn’t placed in a saintly light. Early on, we learn that he has cheated on his girlfriend – possibly more than once. His troubled past involves prison-time and drug-dealing, both things weighing down on his shoulders as he struggles to make the right decisions.
His day consists of various pointed moments. He drops his girl at her job, takes his daughter to day-care, he pleads with his ex-boss to give him his job back, he visits his mother on her birthday; all the while trying to figure out how to change his life around.
This relatively simple day is beautifully set out, attempting to highlight the troubles and internal conflicts that collide with not only this particular young man, but with many young men from lower social classes – African-American or otherwise.
As Oscar Grant, Michael B. Jordan delivers an exemplary performance that rings true. He is impressively convincing, emitting an emotional honesty that balances anger and kindness in equal measure. More than a simple homage or impersonation, Jordan excels in a convincing portrayal of a flawed young man with a good heart.
As two of the women in his life, Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer are also fantastic as his respective girlfriend and mother. Their natural performances complementing the realistic texture running throughout the film.
Writer-director Ryan Coogler delivers a film that many may consider biased, but there is no denying the passion and frustration that drives the film home. If there are minor qualms to be found, they may be in the almost heavy-handedness of some moments, certain scenes straying slightly into obvious territory.
The end of the film informs you that the police officer responsible for Oscar’s death was sentenced to two years in prison, but was released after just 11 months. This fact drives the protest factor home, making the audience yearn for justice.
Overall, Fruitvale Station is a powerful story well told. It has the power to work as a strong drama, or as insightful social and political commentary. Regardless as to the point of view you decide to look at this true story from, one scene perfectly encapsulates Oscar’s story. Not long after Oscar pats a seemingly stray dog, the animal is hit and killed by a hit-and-run driver. A life cut short in this manner is senseless, sad and infuriating. Fruitvale Station is a powerful depiction of a tragic loss.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10