Ryan Coogler’s exceptional, directorial debut Fruitvale Station begins with the real life footage that the film is based upon. It’s a tragic handheld recording of a young, innocent man being shot dead by a police officer. That man was Oscar Grant, and this feature documents his last day, leading up to the tragic incidents that took place.
Oscar is played by Michael B. Jordan, who is struggling to make ends meet, having recently been fired from his job at a supermarket. He lives with his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and young daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal), and after they both leave for work and nursery respectively, he plans for his mother’s (Octavia Spencer) birthday, before making plans with friends to go out and celebrate the New Year.
Mostly due to seeing the real footage at the very beginning, Fruitvale Station makes for unbearable and uncomfortable viewing. Knowing what is coming up as we pensively build towards it is so tense and unforgiving, and you can feel it in the pit of your stomach as the inevitable finale approaches. Though the subject matter is powerful and disquieting to say the least, it takes a good director to bring this sort of tale to life, and Coogler has done a fine job. The picture revels in the mundane, and trivialises life so effectively; playing on the notion of all of those seemingly insignificant moments we take for granted. Oscar is heavily flawed too, and humanised so efficiently. He has made mistakes, we see him at his worst and delve into his shady past, and yet all this does is paint a more authentic, naturalistic portrait of the young man, and as such makes the ending even more upsetting.
On a more negative note, we do delve into overtly sentimental, cinematic territory in the latter stages, but it’s a small blemish on an otherwise fantastic debut for the young director. It triggers such a range of emotions and leaves you feeling so conflicted – as while angry and incensed at mankind, you can’t help but feel inspired. And if there is one message to be taken away from this picture, it’s to simply appreciate and treasure your life.