You may recall back in 2009 the news story about a young 22 year old man named Oscar Grant who was shot by a police officer in a train station in an out-of-control situation that was actually caught on camera by on-lookers on their cell phones. These videos were shown by numerous news stations and made their way across the internet.
The story is a sad one, a tragic one, and one that it is impossible to watch unfold without becoming emotional and feeling angry, yet this film is important and director, Ryan Coogler, does a commendable job, especially when one takes into consideration that this is Coogler’s first feature film. We follow the final day in the life of Oscar, played with conviction by star-in-the-making Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle) as he spends time with his family and friends, plays with his daughter, recalls his past, makes hard decisions regarding his life and runs into people, in both a positive and very negative way. We get to know Oscar and through Jordans excellent performance we learn about who this man was, how much he loved his family, his desperation for positive change in his life, and in learning these things it truly makes watching the film’s final moments even more harrowing and difficult to stomach.
Fruitvale Station is a pretty short film, clocking in at just under 90 minutes, but in that time is does so much, and provides a realistic insight into Oscar Grant’s story and what lead to him being inexcusably shot by a contemptible policeman just after he and his friends had brought in the New Year of 2009 with cheers and song inside a train. It is hard to watch in many ways, like any film that deals with tragedy can be, but at the same time it is a story that needed to be told, not only as a way to memorialise somebody who was tragically lost due to incomprehensible maltreatment but also as a way to record history and hope that something like this doesn’t occur again.
Octacia Spencer (The Help) plays the part of Oscars’ mother, Wanda, and she delivers an exceptional portrayal of a mother who loved her family, works hard to keep them on the straight and narrow, and eventually has her heart broken to pieces. Her torment and anguish is clear as day, and Spencer shows once again why she continues to turn heads as an actress, she is just fantastic here. Melonie Diaz (She Wants Me) also hits a nerve as Sophina, Oscar’s partner and mother of their daughter, Tatiana (Ariana Neal), her firework-relationship with Oscar is shown here in a way that shows how, regardless of the hard times they faces as a couple, they loved one another deeply. Diaz brings a realistic and heartfelt character to life and in the final scenes of the film she shows a version of what it must be like to be given such tragic news. The whole cast do a great job of bringing an authentic and subtle realism to the film, and with it’s documentary-style at times, it makes what is happening feel all the more real, even though we are watching a re-creation of sorts.
I was left breathless and tearful as the film ended, and my fists were balled up because of frustration, which in itself shows just how many emotions this brings out of the viewer. It is one of those experiences that, while not enjoyable, feels necessary, and this is definitely one to watch, for the performance, for the story, and for the fact that people should know that this happened to prevent these sorts of things from happening more.
The policeman who shot Oscar claimed that he thought his handgun was actually his taser, and he received two years for manslaughter, he was released after 11 months.