Fruitvale Station tells the story of real life Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old who was forced off a train in the wee hours of New Years Day. After an altercation with Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police, Grant was shot in the back and died shortly afterwards from a punctured lung and massive internal bleeding. What’s more disturbing than the fact that Grant was unarmed upon being shot, is that dozens of bystanders stood by and captured the incident on video. Youtube has a number of these hosted on their site. Fruitvale Station comes out during an already tumultuous time just a weeks shy of the controversial George Zimmerman verdict in the shooting of the unarmed Trayvon Martin. Fruitvale Station reminds viewers of these tragic injustices that happen to the innocent on an alarmingly regular basis.
Shot on hand-held camera, director Ryan Coogler throws viewers head-first into the life of Oscar Grant the day of his death. Through intimate framing and camerawork, as well as Michael B. Jordan’s incredible performance as Grant, the bond audiences feel for Grant results in either a tearful catharsis or a feeling of outrage, if not both, at his fate. Fruitvale Station candidly explores Grant as a human, exposing the character’s sweet gentle loving side around his friends, family, and even strangers, as well displaying his pitfalls and moments of hot-headed rage. The complexities of Grant as a character pushes viewers to feel the sting of the life’s unpredictability despite one’s attempt at doing better for themselves and those around them.
Strong performances from the cast are displayed across the board and the use of foreshadowing creates a tension as thick as molasses with each passing moment that slips by. Fruitvale Station’s charming humanization of Grant sends a much needed message in the wake of the Travyon Martin case. In circumstances where innocent men of color are placed in a situation of force all because of stereotypes against them, many times they are blamed for their own fate. The first officer on the scene of the real-life Grant situation reportedly stated that “If they would’ve followed orders, this probably wouldn’t have happened.” On a similar note is the defense’s attempts of painting Martin as a good for nothing criminal who had death coming to him. Fruitvale Station’s exploration into the topic is the hardening reminder that looks aren’t always what they seem and no one deserves to die because of a stereotype.
See, there are other actors who can be cute with children besides Will Smith, people.
Now in spite of the film’s ability of making viewers align with Grant, its attempts at doing so are forced and by the end of the film its overall focus is lost and a point is missed. Fruitvale Station spends such a considerable amount of time pushing the notion of Grant being a likable person (like having a scene in which he witnesses a hit and run of a dog and coddles the animal afterwards) that it results in the overall message of the film lacking a punch or true understanding by the end.
Real life footage is shown during the ending epilogue with text informing viewers of the subsequent days of protests and rioting that took place after Grant’s death. It also mentions how there are still memorials held in Grant’s honor every year. But what of it? What does the film want to say about the situation that happened?
After reading up on the incident, Grant’s murder was a stupid mistake on the part of the cop who shot him, who was actually attempting to tase Grant, but grabbed his gun first. The film points out that the cop received a two year sentence, yet only served 11 months. Fruitvale Station merely lays out the information of the case and the dramatized version of Grant’s life; however, there is no call to action. There is no acknowledgement that this type of event is unfortunately common among African American men. There’s no call for viewers to get angry about police brutality and how far cops should be allowed to go when detaining a person. Reading up on the real life case prompts these reactions, but not necessarily the film.
Fruitvale Station: where it’s acceptable to kill a innocent person. Well, there and Florida.
Regardless, Fruitvale Station is a wonderful character study and an insight into a tragic event that shouldn’t be forgotten. Coogler’s style reflects the chaotic events of the night in focus, while also bringing an intimate personal atmosphere to entrap audiences in. As Jordan’s role as Wallace in HBO’s The Wire will prove, Jordan just has a likable, charming presence. You automatically see good behind his beaming smile and excited eyes. Melonie Diaz pulls an impressive performance as well as Octavia Spencer, all playing their parts naturally to give a poetic realism to the real-life people they portray. That alone is worth the watch.
Do a Shot: every time someone mentions taking the train.
Take a Drink: every time we’re given another reason to like Oscar.
Take a Drink: every time Oscar loses his temper
Take a Drink: whenever Oscar just can’t catch a break.