Epic. This is the one word that encompasses the experience of Fruitvale Station. This film grips its audience from the beginning and is so well developed and directed that it is almost unfathomable that it is a directorial debut and shot on a relatively low budget. As you are pulled into the story by the incredible realism, it almost haunts you to realize that Fruitvale station is based on a true story: A true story that grabbed national headlines and showed America the ugly realities and dangers of racism.
Fruitvale Station chronicles the last 24 hours of Oscar Grant’s life which came to a tragic end on January 1, 2009. Grant, who was 23 years old at the time of his death, is portrayed by actor Michael B. Jordan and Jordan does not fall short in his memorable portrayal. Ryan Coogler wrote and directed the film and at the age of 23, crafting a beautiful screenplay that focuses on Oscar Grant for the person he was, including his flaws. Coogler does not shy away from Oscar’s difficulties with the law and his struggles to achieve more for not only his only life, but the life of his 5 year old daughter Tatiana. Coogler also reminds the audience from the beginning that everything we watch leads up to that inevitable moment on the BART platform. A moment which has been viewed on Youtube millions of times around the world: when Oscar Grant is fatally shot by BART police officer Johannes Meserle. You can’t hide from what is going to happen and as you start to root for Oscar’s flawed but determined character you can’t help but be reminded of the futility of it all.
The film focuses on Oscar’s relationships with his family members, in particular his mother (played by actress Octavia Spencer), his girlfriend Sophina, (played by actress Melodie Diaz) and his young daughter Tatiana, whom he affectionately calls “T.” Viewers of Fruitvale Station are able to see not just the humanity in Oscar Grant, but are also treated to what feels like an authentic tour of life in Oakland, CA. Coogler captures everything from the bay area music and dances, to the characters’ distinct bay area accents and lingo. He cuts no corners: everything is as real as it feels. Long shots and slow pacing help to create tension and a moody vibe as you travel along with Oscar. With a minimal but powerful musical score, the audience sees a young black man trying to right his wrongs and fighting his own demons. Coogler does what is almost impossible: he paints a portrait of a person that we can all identify with in some way, and we want to see succeed in life. Fruitvale Station takes us on an emotional journey that not only gets you to ponder your own ideas about racism and stereotypes, but paints a special portrait of a young man that lost his life too soon, and in its own way gives Oscar Grant the chance to tell his story.