“Fruitvale Station” (2013) Based on a true story, “Fruitvale Station” opens up with the real video footage shot by people using their camera phones, of the shooting of Oscar Grant in a BART station by police officers on New Year’s Day 2009. The film then shows us what happened in the last day of Oscar’s life, leading up to that fateful shooting.
When we first meet Oscar (Michael B. Jordan), he is in bed with his girlfriend Sophia (Melonie Diaz), trying to convince her that he is not cheating on her, or at least he hasn’t cheated on her in the last week or so. Right from the start, we see Oscar as a complicated man, one who has made mistakes in his life but is determined to change his ways for the better. He truly cares for his family, including his mother (Octavia Spencer), is heavily involved with the upbringing of his daughter, Tatiana (Ariana Neal) and is trying to get away from his past life of drug dealing and prison.
Writer/director Ryan Coogler, does an exceptional job of letting the audience get to know Oscar, slowly, by showing us how he deals with ordinary situations, like taking his daughter to school. Oscar’s singular attention to his daughter shows his compassion for helping people out. Sometimes to his own detriment, his compassion gets the best of him, as in a scene where even though he is behind on rent, he commits to helping his sister out with a bill.
The film, shot is an almost documentary style, let’s us experience what it was like to live in Oscar’s world. It is a harsh world where he is desperately trying to escape his former life and become a better person.
Michael B. Jordan, in a role of a lifetime, brings a multi-layered performance to the screen, showing Oscar as a man that can be loving in one moment with his mom during a prison visit, but angry and defensive in the next moment, when another prisoner belittles his family. Jordan, with his easy smile and slow moving grace, is one of those actors who has such a presence on screen that you instantly like his character.
Octavia Spencer is perfect as the long suffering mother of Oscar, a woman that loves her son but is willing to stop seeing him until he changes his ways. Her tough love approach in the prison may have been the catalyst that Oscar needed to change his life.
Melonie Diaz is splendid as the more serious and driven girlfriend, who is deeply in love with Oscar, willing to put up with Oscar’s faults because she knows there is a good man inside of him. Her character fits in well with the rest of Oscar’s family, shown in a scene where she helps Oscar’s mom fix dinner on New Year’s Eve. That scene gives the viewer hope that she and her daughter will survive his death with their support.
The film does a remarkable job of letting us understand fully what kind of person Oscar was. He was a man trying to change his life, despite the obstacles in his way. He certainly wasn’t a perfect as this film shows, but he was a loving father and a person for whom his family cared very deeply .
This is a moving and thoughtful film that will make you both angry and sad as it comes to a devastating conclusion, one that you know is coming, but you hope against hope that it won’t end that way. The film lets us into a life a man that, before this film was made, we had only known through shaky phone camera videos. Oscar was a man that had a long way to go to become a better person, but we will never know, due to his senseless death if he would succeed. My Rating: Full Price