Reconstructing the last day in a man’s life was the difficult task put to director Ryan Coogler with Fruitvale Station. The events leading up to Oscar Grant’s untimely death on New Year’s Day 2009 is the basis for the story, the sensationalized media frenzy that came afterwards is left out of Fruitvale Station, giving the viewer an opportunity to know Oscar as the man he once was, and was trying to be for his family. His death caused a media uproar, shook the San Francisco Bay Area, and continues to influence the politics of how police officers act, and react, in situations. Oscar was unjustly killed by a Bart Officer coming home on New Year’s Eve; a death that could have been avoided, as was seen by millions thanks to cell phone videos taken at the scene.
While Fruitvale Station shows the fateful event that led to Oscar’s death the real story here is Oscar himself. Michael B. Jordan gives a remarkable performance as Oscar, a young man who has made his mistakes in the past. He’s been to jail, dealt drugs, been an absentee father and less-than stellar provider for his family. But he’s trying to change, and during the course of the movie you see how Oscar makes strong choices in order to change his life for the better. You also witness the bond he shares with his daughter, and the love he feels for his girlfriend–even as they struggle with his infidelity. There are also the moments spent with his mother, Wanda (Octavia Spencer), where we bare witness to the strain put on a mother when her son is in and out of trouble, never knowing whether his promises will keep or he will revert to his past lifestyle. Now, Oscar is not made out to be a perfect man, or even a great man. He is simply just like anyone else, living their life as best they can and trying to learn from their mistakes. Coogler does not over-dramatize the situation, or show any bias throughout the film. Oscar is not a hero, but he does stand for something by the film’s end–that anyone can be the victim of poor choices by those who are meant to protect us, secured by the oath they take. Oscar did not set out to make history, but his story has in turn done just that.
Michael B. Jordan displays the struggles exceptionally well of Oscar, and Coogler directs a movie that is within realistic expectations, not overblown dramatics. Fruitvale Station is a journey in the footsteps of a man we will never know, because the opportunity has been taken from us. It is through Coogler’s superb direction that a brief glimpse into Oscar’s life is possible, and the unfolding of events that occurred that fateful night can be shown.