A Look at Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station

Photo by Tito Texidor III via Unsplash

(Spoilers will be present throughout) 

On January 1st, 2009 in the early hours of the morning Oscar Grant III was killed by two BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police. The footage of his killing went viral and was covered worldwide. It also sparked many protests and riots due to it being an instance of law enforcement abusing their power. It also sparked up discussions about racism as well as criticism of the police in general. 


In 2013, Ryan Coogler wrote and directed the film Fruitvale Station which is based around these events. It stars Michael B. Jordan as a fictionalised version of Oscar Grant in a performance that largely acclaimed. The film also stars Octavia Spencer (as his mother), Melonie Diaz (as his girlfriend), Kevin Durand and Chad Michael Murray (as the two officers complicit with Grant’s killing). 


The film chronicles the last day of Grant’s life. It takes artistic liberties due to it being a film but still grounds itself in realism and sticks close to the real-life events. The film opens with real footage of Grant’s murder and closes with the aftermath of his death (as well as some information about the sentencing of Grant’s killers). The film depicts Grant as a man who has done wrong in his life before and is looking to turn things around.  A scene during the film presents his mother paying him a visit to the prison. Within this scene, we learn that he is flawed but wants to redeem himself. He wants to improve his life for his girlfriend, and his daughter. We follow his quest for redemption throughout the film. In one of the scenes, he is faced with a struggle of conscience. Towards the end of the film, the incident with the police eerily mirrors what happened in real life. 


In my opinion, it is a thought-provoking and emotional film. I had previously seen and enjoyed Coogler and Jordan’s other collaborations (those being Creed and Black Panther) but I feel this is the best movie they have made together. Coogler directs the film in almost a documentarian fashion. It is effective as it allows for a ‘fly on the wall’ perspective to be achieved. As the film opens with footage of Oscar Grant’s death it allows the audience to essentially know what’s coming. The film paces down for some moments to awaken the audience’s emotions.


Speaking of the lead, Michael B. Jordan gave one of his best performances in the film. He portrays Oscar as a flawed individual and his redemption arc is one element that definitely gives the film its power. We see that he is trying to better himself and his life. His eventual fate makes the film an emotional experience. I would be lying if I say that the scene did not stick with me after the film ended. The performances across the board are fantastic. I really liked Octavia Spencer in the film. She does an amazing job as Oscar’s mother. This being especially true in some of the film’s final moments. There is a heart-breaking scene towards the film’s climax where she displays both courage and emotion simultaneously. 


The movie is well-structured. It’s a depiction of the last day in someone’s life wherein which you know he is going to die from the beginning of the film (or even before you see it if you know what the film is about). You get to see him go about his day as it would usually be. He’s in a way painted as just a normal guy. In the grand scheme of things, he’s just a man trying to do better in his life and make it better for people around him as well. As the film progresses you almost start to forget what is going to happen to Oscar until he is pulled off of the train by the police. What follows is an intense scene that plays out very similarly to how the incident happened in real life. This helping it to play into the documentary-style that Coogler is going for. 


Overall, I loved this film. It’s an emotional and thought-provoking film for sure but there’s almost a sense of optimism throughout. As you see Oscar’s situation getting better you almost feel happy for him until the ending brings his life to a tragic conclusion. It has excellent performances and a great script. I would highly recommend the film to everyone. I believe it is on UK Netflix (as I am writing this) so I would implore you to check it out. With the death of George Floyd and the ripple effects that has had throughout the world, I feel that this film is an important time capsule. As we are seeing reports of law enforcement abusing their powers this film helps to capture an example of it.

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