I must admit that despite the many good things I heard about this film, I was a little sceptical about the “following one man’s life for the day” formula. So often this set-up can lead to a slow, ‘artistic’, quiet film that relies heavily on filling in the gaps with the viewer’s philosophical interpretation – and this rarely works for me.
Pleasantly surprised I was to find that Fruitvale Station, slow and quiet at points, did alot to dispell my assumptions and succeeded in grabbing my attention while relaying the purportedly true story of the last day in the life of Oscar Grant III on New Year’s Eve/New Years Day 2009.
On New’s Years Eve, Oscar is trying to get his life back on track, having been selling dope and struggling to hold down his job since his release from prison. Every element of Oscar’s life is interwoven into his last day – his love life, his role as father, son and brother, even the tensions with his former boss. The film remains locked on this one day, with the exception of one poignant flashback, which at the same time as envoking the viewer to understand Oscar in an additional dimension, is a very cleverly incorporated precedent for what will unfold. What is clearly an emotional day for Oscar is leading to the fateful culmination of the events that took place at Fruitvale Station on January 1st 2009 – and was captured by the general public on their cellphones.
Michael B Jordan can be extremely proud of his portrayal of Oscar, playing the role with charm and raw realism. A fan of Jordan since recently watching The Wire, this is just further conviction that Jordan is one to keep an eye on. Over the course of this one day, Jordan gracefully conveys the hope, love, anger and frustration of Grant’s struggle to better himself.
Now, in terms of the film’s integrity as a fact-based story, I have no doubt that many scenes of the film have perhaps been embellished, or have been falsified entirely (Grant finding the stray dog being one of those highlighted). Nonetheless, I would say that in terms of being an entertaining watch, Fruitvale Station certainly is and whether this is down to embellishment and trying to portray Grant in a more favourable light to enhance the tragedy of what occurred that day, is of little consequence to me.
Over the years of having watched many-a-”based on a true story” movie, I have learnt to take these re-tellings with a rather large pinch of salt. With Fruitvale Station, the tragedy that occurs is so shocking, that it does not ultimately matter how Grant is depicted. The irresponsible and unforgivable actions of BART police on the night of his death were what they were. Whether Grant was still selling drugs or still getting into trouble on the streets holds no bearing on what took place on that fateful night.
So, I take the story of Grant’s last day largely as a great piece of cinema, and also as a method of humanising the victim (embellished or not) – Grant was a father, a brother, a son, a boyfriend, a friend. And I take the actual facts of the events that took place at Fruitvale Station, recorded on camera by several bystanders (one clip actually forms the opening scene of the movie) as the condemnation of the irresponsible BART officer who committed this crime.
Though many may take this movie as a wholly true-to-life re-telling, the discussion that sparks from what happened that night is what really matters, and I think that Coogler (director/writer) has done a beautiful job of creating a great piece of cinema, and of paying homage to Oscar Grant III.
Also – keep an eye out for the small (but significant) role played by Chad Michael Murray!