Review: Fruitvale Station
On New Year’s Eve, 2009, 22-year-old Oscar struggles to get his job back, avoid falling again into with drugs, and be a responsible father, boyfriend, and son. The African American Bay Area resident joins his friends in celebration at night, finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time on a fateful night.
Michael B. Jordan is magnificent as Oscar, the tragic figure at the centre of this drama. Melanie Diaz plays his girlfriend Sophina, while Octavia Spencer is warm and loving as Oscar’s mother, Wanda.
It would seem this true story is too common, or at least the ending is. And we know how the story ends right away. Those on the subway at Fruitvale Station in Oakland, California, late in the morning on New Year’s Day, 2009, captured the horrifying event on camera, and that is how this stark, raw, powerfully charged film begins. There are protestations, there are screams, and then there is a shot.
Oscar Grant III, unarmed, was shot in the back by a white police office on the subway platform of Fruitvale Station, and Ryan Coogler’s debut feature film begins with the real footage of the incident.
Oscar’s future was more optimistic not 24 hours earlier, which is when the story starts. A raw and intimate portrait of a young life taken too soon, Fruitvale Station follows the auspicious last day of Oscar, a young African American looking to do right by the law and his family.
Oscar is affectionate with his young daughter, direct with his girlfriend, and loving with his mother. Still, he is plagued by a past that saw him in jail and still offers him a chance at money by selling pot. What’s more, his past sexual digressions have created tension with his girlfriend, a woman with who he appears deeply in love, and who loves him in kind.
Michael B. Jordan is immediately and always empathetic as our tragic hero whose flaw may be bad luck, may be bad choices, and may be the colour of his skin. Coogler does not shy away from the parts of Oscar that are unattractive: his past dealings with drugs, his at times tumultuous relationship with his mother and girlfriend, and his penchant for being tardy and losing his job. Coogler, though, looks to tugs at your heart strings, and does it masterfully if not too dramatically.
His camera follows Oscar incredibly closely; you are alongside him throughout the day, from waking up in bed to a questionable meeting to being crammed on a packed subway car with him and his friends. You listen in on his conversations that are both innocuous and telling; when he helps an attractive young lady at the supermarket where he used to work, it doesn’t seem seedy or suggestive, even when we know he had cheated on his girlfriend in the past.
The viewer becomes part of his world, and you can’t help but root for this young man, despite knowing his fateful ending. We are presented a portrait of a young man trying to turn his life around, to right the wrongs of the past – and he is a young man, but 22, and someone who should still be allowed the opportunity to make mistakes without losing his life.
Jordan’s heartfelt portrayal and Coogler’s intimate, raw, and honest direction make Fruitvale Station an emotionally charged ride that is unforgettable, and incredibly significant. Oscar is flawed – very flawed- but winning, and Coogler is frustrated by his tragic end and highly motivated to make a film that does not shy away from race and politics.
Despite knowing the heartbreaking ending, the film is surprising and gripping, and at only 90 minutes, you’ve spent an entire day with Oscar and become a part of his life. And you wish his life would continue.
Should You See It?
Absolutely, it is the most important and timely films of the year.