Writer: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz
Running time: 85mins
The lowdown: Sober and compassionate telling of a true life case of police brutality in California’s Bay Area, when a train station altercation turned deadly after strong arm tactics and racial tensions collided. Michael B. Jordan delivers a commanding performance as Oscar Grant III, a 22 year old ex-con living out the final day of 2008, unaware of what a New Year’s night out will bring. Oscar winner Octavia Spencer provides excellent back-up as Grant’s mother.
The full verdict: Opening with actual mobile phone video of the tragic encounter between Oscar Grant and the Bay City police, Fruitvale Station then rewinds to Grant’s final day.
A major news story in California at the time, Grant’s death at Fruitvale Station went surprisingly unremarked upon around the world. Director Coogler, with big name support from Octavia Spencer and Forest Whitaker, uses this small, but well-crafted movie as an attempt to redress this.
But, he is not interested in a glossy whitewash of his subject. Grant is depicted as a young man not above cheating on the mother of his daughter and, through flashback, revealed as a one-time convict quick to temper.
Yet, there is also the charmer, the people person good with his daughter and protective of those around him. And if Coogler’s film, the product of a vast amount of research, is to be believed a man attempting to right past wrongs for the sake of his family.
The majority of the running time plays a modest, near mumblecore slice of life film. Dropping his daughter off at school, attempting to get a grocery store job back, looking for guidance from the two women in his life (Spencer plus Diaz as his girl) are moments in Grant’s day played with low-fi naturalism and a nuanced turn from Jordan.
All of which makes the final thirty minutes shattering.
Directed with up-close immediacy and acted with raw urgency and anger, the sequence on the train platform is devastating, made even more wrenching due to the inevitable tragedy to follow.
The officers involved emerge as bigoted bullyboys. Yet even here there is complex moral shading, with a suggestion that peer pressure led to the unlawful killing (the policeman responsible claims he mistook his gun for his Taser).
Footage of Grant’s real life family in the final moments shows how one shot can echo long after the trigger is pulled.