Sundance London 2014: Fruitvale Station - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
THE true story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old black man who was shot in the back by US police in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009, has been turned into an emotionally shattering movie by writer-director Ryan Coogler that rates among the best movies of the year.
Opening with real footage of the incident in question, as recorded on the phones of eyewitnesses, the film then proceeds to spend the last 24 hours in the life of Grant, a flawed young man who is seen desperately trying to put his life on track, come of age and atone for past sins.
In doing so, it introduces viewers to those who form an integral part of his world, including his friends and – most importantly – family (including his young daughter, his girlfriend, his mother and grandmother).
Coogler doesn’t attempt to paint Grant as a saint. His first scene proper shows him arguing with his girlfriend about an affair he has had. He has also lost his job on account of being late for work and attempts unsuccessfully to persuade his manager to take him back. He also lies to his loved ones about having lost his job.
But Grant remains determined to turn his life around and step up for his family. Coogler’s film portrays him as a sensitive, often conflicted young soul whose first instinct is to do right by people – whether it’s giving his long-suffering mum a birthday to remember, helping out a stranger with some cooking advice in his former place of work or helping a fellow New Year’s Eve reveller find a toilet opportunity – a gesture that seems to pre-empt a change in his fortunes.
Admittedly, such scenes make the tragedy of what ultimately occurred all the more startling. But while some have accused Coogler’s film of omitting key facts and manipulating his audience emotionally, there’s no getting away from the senseless nature of what played out.
Grant was with his friends on the train home from New Year’s Eve celebrations when he ran into a former inmate with whom he had history. A fight ensued and Grant and his friends were pulled off the train by officers from the BART police force. They argued their corner and were forcibly restrained, culminating in the decision by one officer to shoot Grant in the back, fatally wounding him.
Coogler’s film recounts this incident in unflinching fashion. It’s a shocking sequence, while the emotional fallout that follows is devastating. You could almost be watching a documentary such is the realism of the footage.
Credit, too, deserves to go to leading man Michael B. Jordan for making Grant such a rounded, likeable individual. It means his memory lives long and there is no higher praise that can be bestowed upon Jordan.
Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer also put in great work as, respectively, his girlfriend and mother, while the intimacy of the scenes building up to the fateful night in question help to paint a compelling picture of a man battling the odds to right past wrongs – a man at odds with his own past (and sometimes present) who is prepared to take some serious steps to avoid the same mistakes, however hard.
But then everything about Coogler’s film works, from the emotional authenticity to the honest depiction of life’s injustices (the final stats provide a real sucker punch). You really won’t forget Fruitvale Station – and nor should you.
Running time: 85mins
UK Release Date: June 6, 2014