“Fruitvale Station” is based on the true story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III, who was shot to death by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police on New Year’s Day 2009. The film introduces Oscar on New Year’s Eve, in bed with his girlfriend Sophina and his young daughter Tatiana. It’s made clear he’s sinned in the past by dealing drugs and cheating on Sophina, but he wants to start fresh and has vowed to clean up his life and possibly even ask Sophina to move in with him and marry him.
But after celebrating his mother’s birthday at dinner, Oscar and Sophina take a trip to San Francisco to celebrate the new year, and on their return home on a BART train, a fight breaks out and police get involved, ultimately leading to his death. Grant’s death made headlines in the Bay Area, which lead to protests and even rioting.
Writer and director Ryan Coogler tells Grant’s story in the span of a day with just a single flashback and is very effective in creating Grant’s persona in such a short time frame. He’s obviously flawed, but also noble, and much credit goes to young actor Michael B. Jordan for such a charismatic performance. I really enjoyed Jordan in the film “Chronicle,” and in “Fruitvale Station,” he reminds me of a young Denzel Washington. Octavia Spencer also does an excellent job of playing Grant’s tough love mother, giving a much more believable performance than her Oscar-winning role in “The Help.” She may not be overly affectionate in displaying her love for her son, but her emotions are nevertheless powerful. I used to work in Oakland, and taking BART was my everyday routine, so the film seemed particularly relevant to me. The timing of the film’s release also eerily coincides with the national coverage of the George Zimmerman case and even Christopher Deedy’s murder trial here in Honolulu.
My only issue with the film is that Oscar comes off as too likable. It’s clear he’s had a troubled past and is looking for a better life, but I would have been okay with less sanctimony. There’s a scene in the middle of the film, for instance, that serves no purpose except to show Oscar’s caring side. More subtlety in developing his character would have been more effective.
Still, “Fruitvale Station” is gritty, real and delivers powerful emotion. It will make you angry and sad and leave you with a heavy heart.
“Fruitvale Station,” 85 minutes, is Rated R and is currently playing in theaters.