Fruitvale Station wasn’t in the cinemas for very long, so I missed it on the big screen, but this powerful drama works just as effectively on a more intimate scale. It tells the real life story of 22 year old Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) a Bay Area resident who was shot and killed in the early hours of New Year’s Day, 2009, by a police officer, responding to a minor disturbance on a tube train.
Ryan Coogler’s debut full-length feature occupies itself with the last day of Grant’s life, beginning with him waking up on New Year’s Eve and following events through to their tragic conclusion. It’s a stripped-down, high-powered production, just 85 minutes in duration, but one that it nonetheless compelling from start to finish. Jordan plays Grant as an affable charmer, with a tendency to get things wrong (on the day he died, he was coming to terms with the fact that he had lost his job at a grocery store because of persistent lateness.) A brief flashback to his time in prison is a little sketchy on detail, making you wonder is he really could have been quite as nice as he’s portrayed here, but as a searing plea for gun control the film works effectively and it would be a hard heart indeed that won’t be moved by its final, harrowing images.
Plaudits should also go to Octavia Spencer as Grant’s much-put upon mother (who heartbreakingly urged her son to take the subway into town in order to ‘avoid trouble’) and to Ariana Neal as his young daughter, Tatiana, who demonstrates acting ability beyond her tender years. Fruitvale Station may only be telling us something we know already – that the right to bear arms is a bad thing indeed – but the lesson is delivered in a confident, assured way, making Coogler a name to watch in the near future.