Fruitvale Station Review
The much-delayed UK release of Fruitvale Station finds a poignant, topical drama hitting cinemas 17 months after it swept the awards at Sundance. Ryan Coogler handles both direction and screenplay in an emotional depiction of the final day in the life of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) – an unarmed 22-year-old African-American shot in the back by a policeman on New Year’s Day in 2009. Although the tragic news story still looms in the memory, there’s still power in how Fruitvale Station opens with camera footage of the event, followed by subtitles: “BASED ON A TRUE STORY”. The driving message should already be clear, but is still important – and relevant – enough for a reminder.Oscar’s life is one of redemption: a former drug dealer who turns his life around to become a kind-hearted son to his worried mother (Octavia Spencer); a loving father to a four-year-old child; a committed boyfriend to his kindred spirit, Sophina (Melonie Diaz). He comforts a dying dog, helps strangers at supermarkets, and a whole bunch of other nice stuff. While some of these presumably fictionalised aspects have amounted to somewhat of a backlash, I perceive the positive characterisation – as well as the endless foreshadowing – to be heartbreakingly poetic.Although Michael B. Jordan was in Chronicle, there is a chance that UK audiences might only know him from That Awkward Moment. Jordan’s humble performance in Fruitvale Station singles him out as a star in the making; the relatable presence you’d want for a commemorative biopic. He compellingly portrays Oscar’s mindset as an inward struggle, with glimpses of a former temper problem – flashbacks show how far he’s changed – while noticeably steering himself towards a calmer state of mind.There is admittedly a question mark over why Fruitvale Station had to be made. There’s little active discussion to be held over the actual incident – the cop’s psychological state, the resulting court case, or the riots that followed. But Fruitvale Station isn’t set out like a documentary, and neither does it come across like exploitation (for that, see the worst film of last year, The Impossible). It’s a touching eulogy of someone who didn’t deserve to die; a painful reminder that racism still exists and often requires a camera phone to pick up the evidence.