Fruitvale Station (2013)

(On Cable TV, April 2016) As a look at the events leading to the infamous death of Oscar Grant on January 1, 2009, shot in the back by BART police while handcuffed and offering no resistance, Fruitvale Station goes for gritty mundanity. As it follows the doomed Grant through the last 24 hours of his life, even the dullest, most familiar actions carry a portentous weight. Ordinary decisions, such as helping out a grocery shopper, or taking public transportation rather than a car, all lead to the fatal events of that night. The racial component of Oscar Grant’s tragedy is unstated yet never away, especially considering the roles played by the white characters in the story. One feels the weight of fiction in the way Fruitvale Station neatly follows Oscar as he tries to change his life for the better, but even the boredom and domesticity in the film’s 80 minutes eventually mean something. Don’t expect heroics when police brutality is on the line, or sweeping cinematography when the point is to focus, hand-held camera-style, on a single man. The result may not be gripping throughout, but there is a steady rise in tension cascading into an affecting climax, followed by a terribly sad extended epilogue leading to a final scene that is nothing short of heartbreaking. Three years later, Fruitvale Station has already been influential: Writer/Director Ryan Coogler has gone on to deliver the well-received Creed, and is now helming a superhero film. Rising superstar Michael B. Jordan carries himself with a remarkable presence and holds his own against veteran Viola Davis. Fruitvale Station certainly isn’t fun or entertaining, but it does fill an essential and too-often ignored role in showing how movies can comment on recent history, reflect social realities and, in their own fashion, deliver an emotional punch on behalf of characters living in different ways from most film viewers.

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