Fruitvale_Station_poster

USA 2013

Director: Ryan Coogler

Writer: Ryan Coogler

Runtime: 85 mins

A compelling tale of a life cut tragically short

Fruitvale Station is a remarkable first feature from director Ryan Coogler that recounts the story behind a modern injustice. Before the opening credits roll we are shown real-life cameraphone footage of the moment, in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009, that a white transport cop fatally shot Oscar Grant III, an African-American, at Fruitvale Station in Oakland, California. Most of what follows is a dramatisation in flashback of Grant’s last day.

Oscar Grant is beautifully played by Michael B. Jordan (best known from The Wire), whose expressive face deftly conveys a range of emotions. What we learn about Grant is that he has a chequered past. He has already done at least one spell in prison, has a temper, has lost his job because of unpunctuality, and he has cheated on his wife Sophina (a fine performance from Melonie Diaz). However, Grant is also depicted as basically a good man. We see him reconciling with Sophina, being a good father, helping a stranger at the supermarket where he had previously worked, and scattering a bag of weed into the ocean (representing his determination not to go back to prison). On this last day of his life we see Grant making preparations for his mother’s birthday celebration that evening.

Ryan Coogler has stated that Grant’s last day was reconstructed from trial records and court transcripts, though a scene in which Grant tries to help a pitbull that is injured in a hit-and-run was created for dramatic purposes. Apparently some critics have either questioned the authenticity of the story portrayed, or the picture that is painted of Grant himself. This strikes me as unnecessary carping, and even holding Fruitvale Station to a different standard from other dramatisations of real-life events. As it is, there is never any suggestion that Grant really has managed to turn his life around. We see him trying to do the right thing, but clearly it is still early days. In one sense, this is what gives the film its poignancy. We will never know whether Grant would have managed to rebuild his life because his life was so cruelly taken away from him.

Following his mother’s birthday party, Oscar, Sophina, and their friends head out towards San Fricisco for the New Year’s celebrations. So noone has to drive under the influence, they take the Bay Area Rapid Transport (BART) system. Without going into all the details, Grant finds himself the victim in an altercation with a white man on the train, as a result of which the BART police only round up various black men at the station. Grant is subsequently shot by one of the cops.

Although Fruitvale Station is a dramatisation, it is shot in a fly-on-the-wall documentary style that really draws the viewer in. The final outcome is of course known to us in advance, but this does not detract from the story  at all. The film is not an in-depth investigation of how the BART police came to shoot an unarmed man; rather, it is a study of a life cut tragically short. It thoroughly deserves the many nominations and awards that it has received around the world.

Rating: 8/10

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