Fruitvale Station (2013)

Fruitvale Station (2013)
  • Time: 85 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama | Romance
  • Director: Ryan Coogler
  • Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz


This is the true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who wakes up on the morning of December 31, 2008 and feels something in the air. Not sure what it is, he takes it as a sign to get a head start on his resolutions: being a better son to his mother, whose birthday falls on New Year’s Eve, being a better partner to his girlfriend, who he hasn’t been completely honest with as of late, and being a better father to T, their beautiful 4 year old daughter. He starts out well, but as the day goes on, he realizes that change is not going to come easy. He crosses paths with friends, family, and strangers, each exchange showing us that there is much more to Oscar than meets the eye. But it would be his final encounter of the day, with police officers at the Fruitvale BART station that would shake the Bay Area to its very core, and cause the entire nation to be witnesses to the story of Oscar Grant.


  • With confident, fearless direction by newcomer Ryan Coogler and a charismatic performance by Friday Night Lights alum Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station is a somewhat overlooked film that needs to be reckoned with. It is based on a true story told in 2008 of one Oscar Grant. He was an unemployed, drug dealing, doting father who on the last day of his life, decided to start from scratch and become a better person. Unfortunately and with great tragedy, he gets shot and killed by an Oakland police officer on New Year’s Eve. This happening, which seemed accidental and overwrought, was committed on a subway stop carrying the same name as the aforementioned title of this harrowing, Cannes Festival vehicle (the one I’m reviewing).

    “Station”, taking place during a one day period, is short and to the point. At less than ninety minutes, things unfold and end in the most conventional way possible. As powerful and naturalistic as it is, I only wish that the proceedings lasted a little bit longer. I wanted the outcomes of the guilty police officers involved, to pan out. I wanted to get the family’s point of view after a possibly accidental hate crime was committed, and I ultimately wanted more closure in general (as opposed to some ending credit titles explaining every one’s eventual plight). Now don’t get me wrong, I still think that Fruitvale Station is an excellent medium of non-fiction exploitation. I especially enjoyed the real life sequence at its conclusion showing the actual characters mourning the life of Grant (in a yearly ceremony and tribute). But what kept me from giving this thing the highest accolade possible was the length. It would’ve helped if an extra 20-25 minutes of running time was tacked on. Then what you’d have would be a full blown masterpiece. What’s on screen kinda echoes a sort of Rodney King-like foretelling where the actual events that occurred, triggered protests and insight from the community. Again, those images are not really shown during the film (there is only documentation of what happened in the closing credits). If a few extra scenes were added, “Station” as a movie, could have formed an even fiercer trajectory plan.

    Minor flaws aside, Coogler who I mentioned earlier, has an extreme prowess for such a rookie embattled director. He carries you masterfully through scenes that involve Grant’s fateful day. His storytelling technique involves the act of showing various cell phone calls and text messages in their exact wording on screen. There is even a “caught on camera” snippet of what really happened (it’s at the beginning and was recorded by I guess, some one’s iPhone). Also, there is one flashback sequence involving Oscar’s past incarceration. And throughout, there are thoughtful, tender moments of him embracing his young daughter’s needs and wants.

    As an Audience Award winner at the 2013 Sundance film festival, “Station” might be too small scale to take over the Academy. However, there is never a false note involving the pacing, the acting, and the genuine authenticity of Oakland, California’s locality (I’ve never been to Northern California but after viewing this film, I almost felt like I was actually inhabiting its surroundings).

    Michael B. Jordan who takes on the title role, has an uncanny level of screen presence here. His actions project a sincere likability, a misunderstood mindset, and a twinkle in his eye (that of a future movie star). His character’s most pivotal scene involves the discarding of a huge bag of pot (into the San Francisco Bay) that he was planning to sell to make ends meet. He wants to do things the right way, start fresh, and rise to an impressionable status. When he loses his life in “Station” (at a ripe 22 years old), the feeling stays with you (as the viewer) and haunts you long after you take it in.

    Overall, I can’t think of a release in 2013, that’s more confident, more sure of itself, and more brilliant in its casting. Octavia Spencer is a powerhouse playing the part of Grant’s mother and Melonie Diaz is sympathetic as his forgiving girlfriend. Yes it’s true that Fruitvale Station may have been passed up at this year’s Oscars. But it has been praised by almost every critic and filmmaker alike (Spike Lee hailed it as the best film of the year). So now that it’s on DVD, check out this mature, masterful debut from a born auteur like Coogler. It’s a true story adaptation that pretty much gets it right.

    Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars

    Check out other reviews on my blog:

  • “A lot of filmmakers are stepping up to the plate and realizing we have a social responsibility not just to entertain, but to make people think. I hope that people who on paper would have nothing in common with Oscar can watch it and see that they do”

    It’s December 31st 2008, and Oscar Grant has his New Year’s resolution set on reconstructing his life with his girlfriend and their four-year-old daughter. But his resolution is abruptly cut short after an altercation outside of Fruitvale Station resulting in an unarmed Grant being shot in the back by a Bart police officer.

    Profoundly upsetting, empathetic and raw, Fruitvale Station is the true story of 24 hours in the last day of Oscar Grant, an imperfect man looking for an opportunity at reinvention. As a boyfriend, father, friend and son, Fruitvale explores the point that Oscar Grant’s life mattered; this isn’t a race issue, it’s a human issue about how quickly society passes judgment, lacking empathy that every person deserves to be given. Whoever Oscar Grant was prior to his death only mattered to those closest to him, but whoever Oscar Grant is after his death should resonate with all of us.

    Whatever you feel about this case, or any case comparable, what’s important to prioritize is how compelling this story is told and the dedication and effort taken to bring this on screen. This is powerful storytelling at it’s absolute best, and it’s message is screaming to be heard in the best form of media.

    Fruitvale Station opens with a grainy video taken by one of the witnesses from the train while Oscar was being detained and cuffed by Bart police. The uproar from surrounding passengers arouses an uneasy, gut-wrenching sensation as Grant’s face is cemented on the pavement. The pop of the fatal gunshot turns the screen black, and the film rewinds to the morning of Grant’s last day.

    Between the ages of 18 and the time of his death, Grant had been arrested five times and spent about two years total in jail. He’d dabbled in selling drugs and even gave a statement to police that he sold ecstasy to a few regular customers. Grant’s family said that he had been seriously considering rerouting his life, and even talked two days prior to his death about getting a place with his girlfriend Sophina Mesa (Melonie Diaz) and their daughter Tatiana.

    By no means was 22-year-old Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan, The Wire) a saint, nor was he the monster the court tried to portray him as to the jury and media. Newcomer Bay Area writer/director Ryan Coogler challenges viewers to experience Fruitvale Station with an open mind and get to know the ups and downs of Grant in his last 24 hours.

    In 2009 Coogler felt like he inherited a responsibility to tell Grant’s story after the shooting and give people an opportunity to see it as a human piece about someone who deserved a chance to live.

    Coogler wanted to bring this story on screen with as much factual support as possible. He started by digging through public records and depositions from the court case to piece together his script. Then he spent time with Grant’s mother, grandmother, girlfriend, daughter and friends to understand who Grant was as a father, boyfriend and son. Coogler was able to outline what Grant did on his last day, from wishing his mother a happy birthday, to picking his daughter up from school, to buying groceries to make gumbo for his mother’s birthday dinner.

    ut not everyone buys the genuine nature of the film citing that Fruitvale Station paints a cleaner version of Grant than what his record revealed. Peter Martin from Esquire explains, “Using the subway footage as an introduction, Coogler pieced together the 24 hours before the shooting by talking to Grant’s friends and family. But the result, while moving, feels manipulative. Coogler’s portrayal is too tidy to reflect the complexity of an actual life. Instead of watching an unbiased account of a tragedy, I felt as if I were watching a skillful piece of propaganda designed to provoke the highest level of outrage. Whenever a flaw is revealed in Grant’s past, it is immediately redeemed. Everything felt too rosy.”

    Coogler’s response is sharply on-point, “People will say that the film portrays Oscar superpositively, but I disagree,” he says. “It’s catching him on a day when he’s trying to be the best version of himself. It just so happened that [this day was] his mom’s birthday and New Year’s Eve, and that he’d recently been released from prison. I think it’s portraying who he was to the people he loved most and who knew him the best.”

    Apart from the meticulously penned script and diligent direction from Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale’s success cannot be credited without mentioning Michael B. Jordan who’s portrayal of Grant will be his great breakthrough in cinema despite being in the biz since the age of 13. Jordan is in nearly ever scene of the film and carries all the weight of Oscar from start to finish. He even struck Grant’s real-life family as such a believable replica of Grant. The film also has a significant supporting role by Octavia Spencer (The Help) who plays Grant’s mother; Spencer seems to have the power to elicit tears from even sternest viewer. Expect nominations for both Jordan and Spencer.

    The reality is that none of us know Oscar Grant personally, but Ryan Coogler gives us the opportunity to humanize Grant to the point where we all can relate to some portion of who Grant was—a 22-year-old work in progress. Coogler told Collider, “I just hope that it makes people think. You know, about how we treat each other. How we treat people that we love. How we treat people that we don’t know. That they just think about that, think about our relationships.”

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