By Neha Aziz
Within the first few moments of “Fruitvale Station” the audience is shown cell phone footage of the night 22-year-old Oscar Grant from Oakland, Calif. is shot by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer Johannes Mehserle. Winner of both the Grand Jury Prize for dramatic feature and the Audience Award for U.S. dramatic film at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, “Fruitvale Station” is a powerful and emotionally-gripping film tightly packaged in 84 minutes. This film is one hell of a debut for director Ryan Coogler.
Oscar Grant III (played impeccably by “The Wire’s” Michael B. Jordan) wakes up one morning and realizes he has some necessary and difficult changes to better his life for his daughter and live-in girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz). Grant’s cellphone is used as a device to set up the events of his last day. He drops his daughter Tatiana (Adriana Neal) at school, gives up selling marijuana, begs to get his job back at the local grocery store and needs to pick up food for his mother’s birthday. Octavia Spencer (from “The Help”) plays Oscar’s mom, Wanda Grant. She is Oscar’s No. 1 supporter, and no one wants Oscar to turn his life around more than she does. Viewers learn that their relationship suffered while he served time for dealing.
Wanting to celebrate New Year’s Eve in San Francisco with Sophina and some friends, the group takes the train at Fruitvale Station. Remembering the footage from the beginning of the film, viewers know what is coming, and the anticipation starts to build. When the scene unfolds on the screen again, it is this time a reenactment. The audience never truly learns why the officers pinpointed Oscar and his friends, excluding the suspicion of racial profiling, but it is safe to say the situation escalates into an unnecessary and horrendous homicide.
Coogler does not paint Oscar as a hero, and that’s precisely what makes “Fruitvale Station” so good. The viewer sees many sides of Oscar throughout the film. We see the good: he helps out a young woman in need of a fish fry recipe, he sneaks his daughter an extra packet of fruit snacks for her lunch, and he even stands by a stray dog before its passing. However, there is also the bad. Underneath Oscar’s good-nature side is a fiery temper waiting to set a blaze to whoever doubts his character and intentions.
The timing and release date for Fruitvale Station is uncanny, because some aspects of the film echo the Trayvon Martin case, adding an even more genuine tone to the film.