Tragedy at Fruitvale Station

2 minute read
Mary Pols

The first films to feature Oscar Grant were shocking amateur documentaries made by passengers on a train that left San Francisco in the early hours of Jan. 1, 2009. Trapped in limbo at Oakland’s Fruitvale station while Bay Area Rapid Transit officers confronted a group of young men accused of fighting on the train, bystanders pulled out their phones as Grant–young, black and talking back–was pushed facedown on the platform and shot in the back by a cop.

The vibrant Fruitvale Station (July 26), writer-director Ryan Coogler’s assured and evenhanded debut, re-creates the 22-year-old victim’s final day with an aura of bittersweet beauty, aiming to humanize Grant (Michael B. Jordan) while refusing to sanctify a man who had dealt drugs and done prison time and could blaze with rage. Coogler depicts Grant pleading for another chance at the supermarket job he’s just been fired from. When he is turned down, Grant quickly turns menacing toward his boss: “You need me outside waiting for you to get off, bruh?”

But he is also sweet as pie, particularly with his mother (Octavia Spencer) and the 4-year-old daughter he is raising with his girlfriend. Coogler doesn’t necessarily try to explain this dichotomy; he uses it to illuminate the challenges facing Americans who live outside of privilege. Jordan (TV’s Friday Night Lights) taps into Grant’s confusion–he longs to live a good life but keeps hitting walls–and gives the sort of flawless, fluid performance that changes careers.

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