This is the true life tragic story of a young Californian man, living in the Bay City area of San Francisco. His name is Oscar Julius Grant III and this film focuses around the final 24 hours before his life was shockingly cut short. I already knew this film would be difficult to watch because I actually remember when this event happened in early 2009.
There was a massive uprising when this occurred but it was all swept under the carpet and I think I only managed to hear about it because I was browsing the internet. Unfortunately it’s not the first of it’s kind and fast forward a few years to the racist killing of Trayvon Martin there’s not much justice happening for black people in the American judicial system (which lets be honest is a shambles).
The opening scene for this film is fantastic as it is heartbreaking when we see actual footage of the the events that took place in the early hours of New years Day 2009 on the Bay Area Fruitvale Station train station platform. White police officers stand over a group of black men who are handcuffed and sitting on the floor and we can see one who is actually laying face down on the floor.
There’s plenty of cursing and shouting between the two groups and then the footage comes to an abrupt halt when the cinema rings out the chilling sound of a gunshot and then the opening credits roll.
Coogler shows us what Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) does in a full day before he is murdered. We build a picture of an out-of-work small-time drug dealer and a cheating boyfriend, sometimes wired up and angry and sometimes gentle and sensitive. He is struggling to straighten himself out since being let out of jail for marijuana possession and be a good dad to his young daughter Tatiana and partner to his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz). We see the phenomenal love he has for his daughter and the warm love he has for his mother (Octavia Spencer).
Although the scene with the dying Pitbull never happened in real life, the scene with his mother visiting him in prison did. You see him square up a fellow inmate and then fall to pieces when his mother walks away from him without giving him a hug.
Even the scene where the white woman was at the deli counter trying to buy fish, he looks at her like he wants to rob her but then offers her friendly food advice. To think within 24 hours they will meet again under very different circumstances is mindblowing.
Michael B. Jordan’s central performance is incredibly naturalistic, big when it needs to be big and not at all exaggerated in the meantime. Jordan is great at showing how Oscar’s attempts to turn his life around are more of a gradual process than a dramatic reversal of fortunes. The scenes where he reflects whilst overlooking the river are humbling and after seeing the beginning credits I think this is where my heart starts to cry for him.
Yes it can be argued that this film is completely biased and that he wasn’t a saint and so this film is not really being truthful. The fact of the matter is whatever Oscar Grant had done in his lifetime..does it really warrant him being shot to death whilst unarmed and handcuffed face down to the floor?!
Right wingers annoy me, instead of giving Coogler props for a great debut film which is centered on something very sensitive, they’re complaining that certain scenes were added to make Oscar seem more human? “Make him seem more human” – The last time I checked he was human, someone who was trying to change his life around, and no one can say whether he would of fully made it out of crime or not, but then we will never get the chance to. He had dreams and hope. He loved and was loved and his death will forever leave a hole in many peoples hearts.
This is not your Boyz N The Hood ghetto violence or your New Jack City of corruption and slums. This is a simple film that depicts a man who was sometimes naughty but always a loving father, son, lover and friend. Of course it was slow during the day and the action only came to light at night but that’s because it’s New Years Eve and almost every single one of us use that day to make plans and be reflective over the year past and the year that’s impending.
It’s easy to see why Fruitvale Station has made such an impact, winning top prizes at Sundance in 2013 and then going on to box office success in the US. Those final scenes leave the audience distraught, upset and downright angry!
The film is, perhaps, a little schematic in its characterisation but film buff who’s seen this will agree that Ryan Coogler still has a long way to go before he gets to that film making finesse, but not a bad first attempt from him at all.
R.I.P Oscar Julius Grant III
Enjoy the trailer
Love and Light
Director: Ryan Coogler
Screenplay: Ryan Coogler
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer