Overview: Fruitvale Station depicts Bay Area resident Oscar Grant’s last day of life leading up to an unnecessary and devastating tragedy. The Weinstein Company. 2013. Rated R. 85 Minutes.
The Story: Fruitvale Station doesn’t shy away from telling Oscar Grant’s story. The film opens with real eye-witness footage of the tragic event that took Oscar Grant’s life in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009. It’s difficult to watch. For viewers not familiar with the true story, this scene serves as the most honest introduction to the story’s inevitable conclusion. For viewers familiar with the true story, it serves as a reminder of the injustice and the heavy heart we felt when we first became aware of it. And for both groups, it tells us that everything we will see is more than just the events of Oscar’s last day, it’s the memory of a troubled man who was trying to reform himself and never got the chance.
Oscar: Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar Grant with a frank and truthful spirit. We may not have known Oscar before, but through Jordan’s portrayal, we feel like we know him now. He has lost his job recently and turned to selling drugs. He tries to get his job back and realizes that drugs aren’t the answer he needs. He spends time with family and friends. He celebrates his mother’s birthday. He helps a stranger by calling his grandmother to offer tips for a fish fry. It’s in these simple, ordinary moments where Jordan shines, and viewers get a clearer picture of who Oscar was. In one memorable scene, Oscar helps an injured pit bull that was hit by a car. He carries the dying animal away from the road in his arms, unable to do anything more to help. This event isn’t confirmed to be true, but it serves as a parallel to what happened to Oscar that night. Writer and director Ryan Coogler includes this because a relation can be made between the labels placed on the pit bull breed and those on the African-American male.
The movie’s events have been patched together by the firsthand accounts of the people he interacted with that day, news stories, and public records. Not everything here is true, but Coogler pieces together every minute of truth he possibly can.
Final Thoughts: When the subject matter carries such heavy sentiments to begin with, it can be easy to dismiss a film’s emotional impact as incidental and easy. But, Fruitvale Station takes an already-overwhelming story and shows the love and genuine humanity behind and deeper within Oscar Grant that cuts straight to the heart. Fruitvale Station is a film not to be missed.