Thursday, July 18, 2013


Oscar isn't a perfect guy.  He may, or may not, have cheated on his girlfriend and mother of his daughter, his work situation is in limbo and he is supplementing his income by selling drugs.  He's no saint, but after spending 24 hours with him, it's clear he's not all bad either.  As director Ryan Coogler's camera follows him throughout the day, we see him preparing for his mother's birthday celebration, help out strangers and friends, and spend time with his daughter who is clearly the apple of his eye.  However, each scene is tinged with a bittersweet melancholy because we know right from the beginning that this is the last day of Oscar's life.

Based on actual events, Fruitvale Station, dramatizes the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, a 22 year-old man that was fatally shot by a police officer at the titular BART station near San Francisco on New Year's Day 2009.  In the wake of the public outcry over the Trayvon Martin trial, it's easy to draw parallels between the two tragedies, while also being reminded that this is nothing new.  Coogler doesn't sanitize Grant's character or gloss over his flaws, but as played by Michael B. Jordan, in a star-making turn, it's easy to forgive him for his shortcomings.  Oscar's infrequent flare ups show that he can be volatile and hot headed, but beneath it all is a young man still maturing and trying to be better. 

The script is so simple and authentic it's as if the actors are improvising. Octavia Spencer is subtly heartbreaking as Oscar's mother Wanda, showing more emotional complexity than she did in her Academy Award winning performance in The Help.  First time director Coogler has presented himself as an assured and natural storyteller.  The ending definitely packs an emotional wallop, but it's earned rather than coerced.