In the early hours of 2009 New Year's Day, Oscar Grant is detained at Fruitvale Station by police officers for doing nothing more than defending himself from an attacker on a train. Shortly after a lone gunshot is heard. Grant is found shot in the back by a police officer while handcuffed, and dies shortly after the following day. He is 22 years old.
In his first directorial effort, Ryan Coogler, the man who brought us Creed, gives us the story behind Grant's shooting by showing us the previous 12 hours leading up to the real life events. Actual footage of the shooting kicks off the movie before rewinding the clocks. Grant is shown trying to patch things up with his girlfriend, who the two share a four year old daughter with. Oscar tries to do the best he can by being a standup guy, but that's harder said than done. He's just lost his job as a grocery store clerk, and the only way he can make ends meat is by selling drugs. Coogler shows Oscar running errands and odd jobs around the city; preparing food for his mother's birthday, bringing his daughter to school, and helping the occasional stranger out of a jam. At the end of the day Oscar, his girlfriend, and his friends decide to take the train into the city to celebrate the New Year. Oscar, who had a brief stint in jail, sees a former inmate. The inmate instigates a fight, and when the train stops Oscar and his friends are detained by the police. Tensions run high, and the movie ends in one explosive, gut-wrenching scene after another.
Michael B. Jordan, who plays Oscar, gives the character a stunning range of emotions. It is clear that Oscar isn't perfect; he's made his fair share of mistakes. He is still a good person at heart, trying to do the best he can out of shitty situations. The nuanced and realistic portrayal Jordan gives Oscar allows the audience to really connect. By the time the gunshot rings out at the climax of the film, the audience if afraid to see the outcome, even though we realize its inevitable.
Supporting Jordan is a wonderful cast of supporting players. Most noteworthy is Octavia Spencer who play's Grant's mother. Spencer is so convincing in her portrayal that you would actually believe she is Grant's own grieving mother. Other great performances are put in from Melonie Diaz who play's Grant's girlfriend Sophia, and Kevin Durant who is one of the officers that detains Oscar.
Admittedly I didn't watch Fruitvale Station until after I had seen Creed this year. Afterwards I knew I had to check out director Ryan Coogler's first outing, and Fruitvale doesn't disappoint. Coogler's script is very well paced, always allowing the viewer to personally experience Oscar and his day to day activities. During the film you feel like you really understand the man who was tragically gunned down at such a young age. Oscar is indeed flawed, but its part of the reason the film works so much, because Coogler depicts Grant as a real human being. The hours that lead up to the confrontation are excellent examples of character development, but it's when Grant and his friends come to Fruitvale that the tension truly soars. The brilliant thing about the film is the audience knows how it's going to end, but we are still at the edge of our seats, hoping the outcome will some how be altered.
Fruitvale Station is certainly an important piece of filmmaking. I recommend this movie to anyone who owns a Netflix account. It's visceral, poignant and gripping, swirling up a range of despair and injustice to the viewer.
Actual Footage of Grant's Shooting
Recommended if you like Creed, Do the Right Thing, Powerful Dramas
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