The fact Fruitvale Station is based on a true story makes the film all the more powerful. We, as an audience, know going in that Oscar Grant, played magnificently by Michael B. Jordan, dies. The gripping and gritty opening scene of actual footage of how he dies only adds more levity. We are hurt, before we are even introduced to the character.
The film follows the last day of Oscar Grant, a man who was shot by a police officer in a train station. We see his failures and flaws, of how he spent time in prison and how he got fired from his job, but we also see his good, how he goes out of his way to help strangers, or a dog. We see his conflicting feelings for the life he has lived and for the life he wants to live. We see how much he loves his daughter and how he has thoughts of marrying his girlfriend Sophina, played by Melonie Diaz. Their relationship goes up and down in the one day we get a glimpse at, but, at the end of the day, we see how much they love each other.
Fruitvale Station is Michael Coogler’s first time directing. He also wrote the movie. As a rookie, Coogler does a sensational job capturing the emotion of the characters. The tenderness between Oscar and his daughter Tatiana. The love between Oscar and his mother, Wanda, played by Octavia Spencer, who won an Oscar for her role in The Help and I would not be shocked if she got another Oscar nod here. Her presence around her son is felt in volumes. Although she may not always get to him, you know she means a lot. Case in point being her prison visitation to Oscar in a flashback. It takes every ounce of strength in her body to leave that room and the moment consumes Oscar, who is left only wanting a hug from his mother.
But the emotion most important to the film is Oscar. Coogler is able to tow the line of Oscar’s emotions with precision. We see him walk into the job he was fired from, seemingly fine, then almost blow up at his former boss, then go back to cooly and calmly helping a stranger, like he was never bothered by anything. There are a few scenes of Oscar like this. You see him at the edge of despair. How he is barely hanging on. He wants to change, but doesn’t know exactly how. Underneath his calm demeanor is a man with issues. Oscar is not perfect, but who is?
The fact that Oscar had his problems makes him that much more identifiable. He had his demons just like everyone else, but he was slowly putting himself onto the right path, which makes what happened to him all the more tragic. He threw away his weed, he confessed his sins, and he even opened the discussion with a stranger about proposing to Melonie.
And that ending, the brutality of it, the suddenness of it, the heartbreak of it. Emotions rampant. You sit there, on the edge of your seat, wondering why that happened, why? In my eyes, no scene was more powerful than the exchange between Oscar and one of the police officers, who was in disbelief of what just happened. The officer knew this was terrible. He didn’t know why it happened. And he was doing everything in his power to keep Oscar alive.
The whole narrative of the film leads to the unfortunate end of Oscar’s life. We take the good with the bad, the happy with the inevitable sad. But most importantly, Oscar Grant is humanized and remembered. We are given a story and a context for the confusion. And even though his life was abruptly cut short, we are given the hope that it is never to late to think about changing. What are you waiting for?