Written and directed by newcomer Ryan Coogler, who himself hails from the very same Bay Area, this film is indeed a strong debut. He said the whole sad event of yet another young African American male being unlawfully killed, especially so close to his own neighbourhood, made him feel compelled to exorcize his own personal feelings through his art of film making. His approach was to look at the very last day of Oscar Grant's life, actually in a very matter-of-fact manner. We, the audience get to experience his day, without any cinematic dramatics, no heavy handed nod as to what was to come. It was all about a normal guy from the hood, trying to take care of business.
As we observe Grant throughout the day we see his wonderful, close relationship with his young daughter, Tatiana, played by the very cute Ariana Neal. It is obvious she is the steering rod in his effort to become a decent, responsible adult. A view he also desperately wants to convey to his mother, Wanda, who has witnessed her son behind bars. The casting of Wanda is pivotal as it is really through her eyes we experience the aftermath of the horror of Oscar's death, so it is no surprise that Oscar winning actress Octavia Spencer excells in her performance. It would have been all too easy to have her play 'the angry black woman' whose son is killed, instead Ms Spencer brings the anguish and pain to a near-quiet realism that almost makes it unbearable to watch, carrying the emotional weight of the film in splendid fashion. The earlier scenes show Oscar and Wanda enjoy a loving close relationship that feels very real and very ordinary. Much as the events which lead up to the deadly confrontation with the police.
Oscar and Sophina, along with a bunch of friends decide to take the BART to San Francisco to celebrate the New Year. Through bad luck, or you could say bad timing, on their return home to Fruitvale Station, Oscar and some of his boys are hauled from the train and made to sit on the platform by the cops after an altercation. Footage from the real life shooting of Grant opens the film and though it is short, it is near impossible getting the images out of your head throughout. The realism strikes home even harder on discovering Coogler filmed the shooting on the very same spot the real life Grant was struck with the fatal bullet. The impact of the film overall is potent as you understand this is a very human story. Oscar could have been anyone and the circumstances which led to his death could have easily been avoided. This was the message I took from 'Fruitvale Station'. A powerful piece of film which rightly deserves the accolades it has already received at the Sundance and Cannes Film festivals and the numerous American film critics who placed it among the Top 10 of their favourite movies of 2013. My only grudge is why was this excellent film so criminally ignored by the Oscars?!! In any case 'Fruitvale Station' will be released in the UK on 6th June. You and your friends need to see it.
Here is a 20 minute film on the real life Oscar Grant and the infamous incident - 'Fruitvale Station: The Oscar Grant Story':