Based on a true story, Fruitvale Station, written and directed by newcomer Ryan Coogler, opens with actual cell phone footage taken at the Fruitvale Train Station on New Year’s Day, 2009. At first it’s hard to tell what’s going on. It seems police officers are standing over a group of African-American suspects in a train station. Then after a brief struggle, a policeman shockingly shoots one of the unarmed suspects, Oscar Grant III, in the back. How could such an injustice happen?
After the shocking cell-phone footage, the movie travels back in time to the morning before the shooting. Fruitvale Station is revealed to be a film about the final hours leading up to Oscar’s (played brilliantly by Michael B. Jordan) death. The story focuses on a seemingly ordinary day in the young man’s life and escalates into a tale far bigger. What may come off as menial activities, such as taking his daughter to school, going to the grocery store, or riding around town listening to rap music, are actually many of his last moments. Although racism is certainly a theme threaded through the film, I was also struck by Coogler’s depiction of the frailty of life. If Oscar had known this was his final day on Earth would he have spent most of his time riding around town doing errands (some good, some bad), or would he have spent more time with loved ones doing the things he enjoyed?
As the movie progresses through the day, we find ourselves back at the opening scene. Only this time, the audience is able to see the event through the lens of Coogler’s camera, not an amateur cell phone. We now have some context to who Oscar was as a person and what events transpired to lead up to his murder. Coogler expertly recreates what happened on New Year’s Day 2009 at around 2 AM, when Oscar Grant III was fatally shot by a BART police officer.
After spending the holiday night out in San Francisco, Oscar, his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz), and friends decided to head home using the city’s metro system. In an ironic twist, Oscar’s mother (Octavia Spencer) had made him promise to ride the train since that would be safer than driving. While on the train, however, Oscar and his friends were involved in a scuffle with another group of men. BART police quickly responded to the situation and detained Oscar and a few other men at the train station. After some arguing and scuffling about the terms of the arrest, an overzealous police officer shot the unarmed Oscar in the back (the officer claimed he thought he was shooting his taser, not his handgun). Oscar Grant III died seven hours later at an area hospital.
The story behind Fruitvale Station sounds all too similar to the Treyvon Martin case, which the media has been heavily focused on over the past couple of weeks. Both of the cases surrounding Martin and Grant have an eerily similar theme, focusing on the brutal reality that gun violence, senseless death and racial profiling are still tragically prevalent in the United States. Following the outrage over the verdict in the Zimmerman trial, it seems Fruitvale Station could not open at a more appropriate time.
Fruitvale Station is a fantastic film that focuses on the frailty of life as much as it does on the back story of race-relations. While it does have its gut-wrenching moments, especially a scene where Oscar tries to help a dog that has been hit by a car (animal lovers be warned!), this movie is a must-see; I can think of no better obituary, portraying the legacy of Oscar Grant III’s life.
My Review: A-