In the early hours of January 1st, 2009 in Oakland, California, Oscar Grant III was mortally wounded by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) officer Johannes Mehserle and was later pronounced dead, having succumbed to his wounds. Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station” tells the true story of the final day of Grant’s life and the experiences which brought him to that fateful night at the eponymous train station. It is a visceral, compelling work of art that not only commemorates the tragic death of the man it’s based upon, but showcases what kind of a person he was in – and leading up to – his final hours.
New Year’s Eve, 2008 – The Last Day
“Fruitvale Station” stars Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant III, a role and a performance which is sure to get him noticed as one of Hollywood’s best up-and-coming young actors. Jordan plays the role with an unmatched and often captivating reality – one that is at most times awe-worthy. Jordan’s movements, speech and mannerisms all feel genuine and it is quite apparent how much care was taken to ensure the role was acted honestly and faithfully. Under Coogler’s direction, the film is given a special touch and every scene feels sharply real, almost to the point that you believe you’re watching real people and not actors.
The Unpredictability of Life
It is this biting reality that deliver the message to the audience that, “this is real; it actually happened.” The film even opens with real-life cell phone-camera footage of the actual event, albeit the fact that the shooting is edited out just as it happens – the sound of the (very real) gunshot as the screen cuts to black, however, was one of the scariest moments I’ve ever experienced in a movie theater this year.
One thing I certainly enjoyed about this film was the fact that Grant was presented to us as a human being – one that makes mistakes but learns from them and feels pain, happiness and a bevy of other emotions, much like the rest of us. Throughout the film, Grant encounters seemingly random people whose lives he impacts just by speaking to them or offering help when they need it. It is this message of community and cooperation that the film preaches more than anything else. The film is also held tightly together by a fantastic supporting cast, featuring Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer playing Grant’s mother and a brief-yet-brilliant performance by Kevin Durand as one of the police officers present at the scene of the shooting.
If I had any issues with this film, it would be in pacing and running time; it all happens to begin and end so quickly but in all honesty, these are extremely small issues which affected my overall appreciation of the film very little. While I do wish the film were a little longer, each scene feels to be the appropriate length and there is no scene that feels out of place or drawn-out.
Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station” deserves every bit of praise it has received. It is one of the few films I’ve seen this year that has left me in a state of awe, keeping my glued to my seat even as the credits started rolling. Coogler’s film is certainly an Oscar-contender with projected nominations for Best Director for Coogler and Best Actor for Michael B. Jordan. “Fruitvale Station” is, in the end, a rare gem which not only presents a harrowingly real story in a true-to-life way, but respects its subject and chooses to establish its main character as not a victim, but a human being – just like you and I.