Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Ariana Neal
Fruitvale Station begins by showing us a small video clip of actual footage in which we witness Oscar Grant and his friends being brutally held by police and ending with Oscar receiving a fatal gunshot to the back. Yeah, this is not going to be a feelgood movie. This actually happened, and the film portrays what Oscar did on his final day on earth.
Plot: Oscar Grant III (Jordan) was 22 years old when he died from a gunshot wound to the lung. He and several other friends were being held by the police at Fruitvale Station in the Bay Area when a police officer supposedly mistook his gun for a taser and shot him. The thing about Oscar was that he wasn’t a punk. He wasn’t a bad person. He was an ordinary guy with plenty of family and friends who loved him. This film shows us that.
Fruitvale Station is aimed at opening the minds and hearts of people to the story of Oscar and the people he left behind. No, Oscar wasn’t the perfect person. He had many flaws. Sometimes he wasn’t always faithful to the mother of his daughter. He sold marijuana for a time in order to provide for his family. He had served time in prison before. But he had the same worries that everyone else does. Providing for his family. Being a good father, son, and companion. The film shows us Oscar’s determination of becoming a better person and the true tragedy that this young man was shot and killed by people that are supposed to protect society. He wasn’t the perfect portrait of a man, but he was somebody that our society failed
However, there are times where you really notice the dramatization of the day leading up to Oscar’s death. The movie would have you believe that coincidentally on his last day he decided to be the epitome of a perfect human being by: holding a dog in his arms after it’s been hit by a truck, throwing all of his drugs in the river, and becoming friends with a random white lady in the grocery store by giving her cooking advice. Yeahhhh, he is shown in a pretty good light. Michael B. Jordan gives an amazing performance as him, though; one that will shake you during the film’s most intense moments. Octavia Spencer is also stunning in her performance as Oscar’s mother. No one wants to know what it feels like to lose a child and the scene in which she learns of her son’s death is heart wrenching and emotional.
The pacing of the movie is what gives it it’s huge impact. The tone of the movie leading up the explosive climax is laid back and purposefully slow. Oscar drops his daughter off at school. Oscar goes to the market. Oscar makes a few calls. Oscar picks up his daughter and girlfriend. On and on and on. All of this is to really give the impression that Oscar was just an ordinary guy, struggling to make a living but doing the best with what he has. The fact that we know what his fate is going to be from the very beginning makes this pacing feel like a train slowly gaining momentum, where we eventually know all hell is going to break loose. The climax in which the incident in the train station is presented to us is intense and you feel every minute of it. Adding to the realness of the situation is the fact that Coogler chose to shoot this scene at the actual Fruitvale station where these events occurred.
Coogler’s reinactment of the story of Oscar Grant III is a poignant voice that speaks of racial profiling, police brutality, and social injustice. This being his first feature film, his purpose and message is obvious. There is something vastly wrong with society that we must change. I really want people to see this film. I hope people see this film and are impacted by it. I want people to talk about Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin and be open to discussion about what needs to be done about creating an end for these sorts of stories. Anyways, this has become more of a rant about social issues than an actual review of the movie, but that’s okay because that is exactly what the movie serves to do.
Conclusion: Fruitvale Station‘s documentary-like feel is what gives it it’s eeriness and emotional impact. The whole cast does an outstanding job, especially Michael B. Jordan. At times, the dramatization of Oscar’s last 24 hours can come across as hokey or contrived in order to show him as a better person, but I understand the need for that in order for the audience to come away with the message that Coogler wishes to relay. It’s not an easy watch by any means and you will walk away feeling emotionally drained, if you were like me. However, it’s a movie I would urge anyone to take the time to watch as it’s a thought provoking film that’s meant to open your eyes to these issues that do happen, and will continue to happen if there is no voice such as Coogler’s to be heard.