By Wilson Morales
Winner of the top two prizes at the Sundance Film Festival (Grand Jury Prize for Feature, Audience Award), Ryan Coogler’s emotional drama and feature debut, ‘Fruitvale Station,’ is one the most endearing and profound films that echoes the essence of humanity. With a career making performance by its lead actor Michael B. Jordan, not only will the film grab the hearts of audience members but the subject matter of police brutality will be discussed long after the credits have rolled.
The film is based on the life of Oscar Grant, a 22 year-old African America who was shot in the back by a white police officer at Oakland’s BART Fruitvale Station while on the floor and handcuffed on New Year’s Day 2009. Several witnesses had recorded the shooting with their cell phones, which, through raw footage, is shown at the beginning of the film.
Coogler then sets up the events of Oscar’s day that preceded the shooting. Oscar was by no means a saint. A drug dealer who had once done prison time and cheated on his girlfriend, Oscar also has another side to him that shows him as a kind, gentle, friendly, and supportive individual. From helping a stranger (Ahna O’Reilly) at the grocery store where he was fired, taking his 4 year-old daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal) to daycare, helping his sister with rent money, and preparing to spend the day with his mom Wanda (Octavia Spencer) on her birthday, Oscar’s looking put the past behind him and start the year on a good note.
With his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) keeping him on his toes and reminding him that together they could have a good life with their daughter, Oscar does his best to get rid of his old habits. Flashbacks of his San Quentin prison stint in 2007 showcases the violent nature in Oscar and how tough he had to maintain himself in that environment.
At the urging of his mom, Oscar and Sophina decide to travel to San Francisco with friends by subway (Oakland’s BART Fruitvale station) to watch the fireworks and after pleasant evening, get back on the train where Oscar’s past catches up with him and events to lead to tragic results.
What’s emotionally compelling about the film is that Coogler manages to get the audience involved with Oscar. As flawed as he is, we see the compassion in Oscar. Jordan, who had been previously seen in smaller roles (The Wire, Friday Night Lights, Parenthood), gives the performance of his life. Although he was earning a living as a drug dealer, as a son, brother, boyfriend, and father, Jordan gives Oscar’s character a side of humanity and redemption that not all is dark in his world. Strong performances are also given by Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer.
‘Fruitvale Station’ is not just a moving and emotional drama about a senseless death, but the life of a young black man trying to put raise hope that given the opportunity, one can walk away from a dark environment and improve their life for the sake of others.