There should always be a disclaimer that comes with movies that are based on a true story. And the disclaimer should be that the term “based” means that often writers and directors will deviate from actual events in order to convey a story they want to tell or a message they want to get across. So it is important to get out and do your own research on the actual events, not just take any such movie for face value. So with that said, lets review Fruitvale Station.
The film tells the story of the real life death of Oscar Grant, a 22-year old father of a 5-year old daughter who is incidentally killed by Oakland transit police following an altercation on New Year’s Day of 2009. The event was famously captured on civilian cell phone cameras where it quickly went viral. Director Ryan Coogler lets you know this from the opening scene where the emotional footage is shown in its entirety.
From this point on, the tone is set. And the rest of the film is left in the hands of relative newcomer Michael B. Jordan. If you’re unfamiliar with Jordan’s work, rent Chronicle and thank me later. Here, in his first major lead role, Jordan gives a performance that should launch him as one of the next great African American actors for years to come. He creates an Oscar Grant that is not a character, but a real person. He is temperamental, he is prideful, but he is also smart, resourceful, and protective. Oscar is not just an ex-con struggling desperately to provide for his family and get his life on track. He is that friend or relative that you grew up with; the one who was the most charismatic, but could never quite stay out of trouble.
It is because of this performance, that we feel like we know Oscar Grant. We scold him when he lies and cheats on his loyal girlfriend and we smile and root for him when he is a loving son and father. And this is what makes the film feel so tragic. Because all along, we know how it will end.
Coogler presents us with the perfect formula for emotional storytelling, but above all, it is Jordan who drives it home by bringing this person to life. Fruitvale Station is about true events, but it would’ve been a powerful movie regardless of its foundations on actuality. And that is what makes it stand out as a great film. It isn’t necessarily about Oscar Grant. Because Oscar Grant could be anyone.
FINAL GRADE: A