By Mark Saldana
Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)
On January 1, 2009 after celebrating New Year’s Eve with his girlfriend and close friends, Oscar Grant III was shot by a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police officer after he and some of his friends were apprehended for an altercation on the train they had ridden. This tragic event, which went viral because of the video footage captured by multiple camera phones of witnesses, has been adapted by writer/director Ryan Coogler into an excellent, but devastating feature film. In light of recent events, such as the death of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent trial of George Zimmerman, this may just be the most important film of the year. It is a film that calls for reflection on race relations, racial profiling, use of excessive force by police, and the poor judgment and questionable decisions made by law enforcement officers.
December 31, 2008 may have seemed like another New Year’s Eve for most people, but for Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) it was another tough day in the life of a young man facing the struggles of being a loving father while attempting to stay out of trouble. Grant has definitely made some bad decisions in his past, and has done some prison time for these indiscretions. Everyday presents new temptations and challenges to remain on the straight and narrow, especially after losing his job at a grocery store. Remembering the promises he made to his mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer) and Sophina (Melonie Diaz), the mother of his child, Oscar manages to get through most of his day stronger and wiser for not succumbing to these temptations, but little does he know that his day, year and life are about to face a catastrophic end.
With solid, minimalist direction by Ryan Cooger, a superb screenplay and beautiful performances by the talented cast, Fruitvale Station feels almost like a rough documentary, therefore, realistic and true-to-life. The skill in which this story is told and presented adds to the calamitous impact that this film should have an all audiences who experience it. Cooger’s writing and direction and Jordan’s performance are all excellently realized. Cooger presents Grant as he should–a real, flesh and blood person with flaws, problems, and a troubled past. The audience gets to see Oscar as a loving, caring and charismatic person who often enjoys helping others. Through a flashback scene, they also get to witness him as a hot tempered man who can get really ugly when threatened or upset. Grant is a man with character flaws like the rest of us, but according to the video footage, the accounts of several witnesses and the portrayal of his character in this movie, he did not deserve to die like he did on that fateful New Years Day.
Thankfully, Cooger doesn’t present the story in an overly biased manner. It is true that the police officers are not too favorably portrayed in the beginning of the events leading to Grant’s death, but Cooger does clearly show that they express remorse and regret for what appears to have been an accidental shooting. The overall effect is deeply affecting and emotional, and I can honestly say that witnessing this dramatization of this tragedy floored and shattered me.
The entire cast deserves high praise for their effective work, but Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer deserve multiple nominations in all of the film awards next year. Without the genuine performances of these leads and their co-stars, this film would not have had quite the same impact. It should go without saying that I believe Ryan Cooger also deserves recognition for his direction and writing.
Because of the talent and their exceptional work in this film, I must strongly recommend this movie. Because of the relevance and importance of this film, Fruitvale Station is a must see. It may not offer the enjoyment and entertainment of typical summer fare, but it is a story that needs to be told and one that all people need to experience. When people become desensitized to the regular tragedy and carnage that our television news regularly serves us as bites, a powerful and well performed film like this one is necessary to rock our hearts to their very cores.