The tragic story of Oscar Grant’s final day is lovingly told in writer/director Ryan Coogler’s pulse-pounding drama, Fruitvale Station. Powerfully portrayed by Michael B. Jordan, Grant is a young man trying to throw off the shackles of his tumultuous past in search of a brighter future.
Based on the real incident that occurred in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009 at the BART transit stop at Fruitvale Station, the film focuses on Grant and his final attempt to distance himself from his former life of selling drugs and spending time in jail. The story opens early on New Year’s Eve, which incidentally is also his mother, Wanda’s (Octavia Spencer) birthday.
Recently, Oscar has been unfaithful, a fact his concerned girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz) refuses to let him forget. The scene is the first of many tender moments that he shares not only with her but also with their precious young daughter, Tatiana (Ariana Neal), who truly is Daddy’s Little Girl.
Several hours away from the New Year, Oscar is silently planning to make life-altering resolutions that will take him away from his former life and hopefully find something meaningful and more importantly, legal that will allow him to take care of his responsibilities to his girlfriend and daughter. Recently dismissed from his job for repeat tardiness, he painfully discloses to Sophina that he’s been carrying around the secret for two weeks in hopes that he would be able to get his old job back. Unable to stay mad with Oscar, Sophina sees beneath his tough facade to the beautiful man who inhabits his inner core.
By no means is Oscar a saint, a fact driven home by his hair-trigger temper that gets him trouble and past habits hustling drugs. Throughout the day, we see the subtle changes that he makes as well as the wonderful spirit that is beloved by his group of loyal friends and his loving family unit. All day long, Coogler’s story spotlight’s Oscar’s humanity, whether in quiet, private moments with both Sophina and Tatiana or flashback scenes with his supportive mother. In another reality, it feels like Oscar is on the precipice of doing or becoming something special that will reward the faith of all around him who are patiently waiting for him to fulfill his vast promise.
While Diaz is very solid in her supporting role, there are two splendid performances in this film. The real revelation is Jordan, who briefly flashed in several projects, namely Friday Night Lights, Red Tails and his winning presence in Chronicle. He is sensational as a boy morphing into a man in front of our very eyes. We take the ride through his frustrated eyes and yet his raw emotion can’t help you root for him to overcome the odds.
Playing his mother, Wanda, Spencer shines as a woman who discovers that in order for him to blossom from a caterpillar to a butterfly, she must step back and give him much-needed space to figure things out. There are two key encounters between the two that will have you quietly dabbing your eyes during the climatic moments.
Coogler, who was deeply affected by the Grant tragedy and became a filmmaker, paints a picture of a young Black male rarely shown on the big screen. Instead of focusing on his outer facade and thuggish persona, which is generally portrayed negatively in most studio films, he portrays Oscar as a loving father, companion, son, friend, even helping a confused young woman with her fish-fry experience as well as a tender, caring scene with an animal in one of the film’s touching scenes. Sure, Oscar has made mistakes but it’s clear that he was sidetracked on the road to redemption.
Produced by Oscar winner Forest Whitaker, Fruitvale Statition’s major awards at both the Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals are indeed the real deal. No special effects or concepts needed here but just straight old-fashioned storytelling blended with two of the year’s best performances from Jordan and Spencer elevate this film from solid to sheer greatness – as well as provide a loving tribute to the fallen Grant!!!