• James Rutherford

'Fruitvale Station': A Stirring and Genuine Depiction of the Last Day in the Life of Oscar Grant III


Movie poster for the film Fruitvale Station starring Michael B. Jordan and Melonie Diaz

"Fruitvale Station" opens with genuine video footage from New Year’s Day, 2008 of Oscar Grant III being detained and gunned down by police at the Fruitvale metro station in Oakland, California. The film then unfolds is a dramatic recapitulation of Oscar’s final day on Earth—leading up to this fateful encounter—and it’s an utterly gripping depiction of one young man’s final hours on Earth.


Written and directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Micheal B. Jordan (who would both go on to huge success with Black Panther and Creed), "Fruitvale Station" depicts Oscar Grant as a troubled but well-intentioned young man striving to provide for his girlfriend and daughter. Having recently been released from prison and having just lost his job at the local supermarket, Oscar is left him in dire straits as he scrambles to put food on the table and cover the monthly rent. Much of this last day for Oscar shows him not only juggling these challenges, but also preparing for his mother’s birthday that evening: buying food, searching for a birthday card, and fielding calls throughout the day in anticipation of the evening’s festivities.

Jordan is utterly superb in his portrayal of Oscar as a candid, real human being, replete with eagerness, frustration, optimism and anger. We see moments of compassionate caring for his daughter and family members off-set by moments of volatility toward a fellow inmate (in a telling flashback), his former employer at the supermarket, and in a fateful moment, a rival gang member aboard the BART train. One of the very best things about the film is that it doesn’t attempt to candy-coat Oscar and portray him as a saint, but rather shows him as a struggling yet purposeful young man trying as hard as possible to get by in life, even as the odds so often seem stacked against him.

Ultimately Fruitvale Station becomes a story of tragedy and heartbreak, as Oscar and his friends are detained on their way home from San Francisco following New Year’s Eve celebrations, and singled-out as the culprits responsible for an on-train altercation. In their struggle with obtuse and inexplicably volatile officers, Oscar is shot in the back by one officer (who mistakes his gun for his taser), and dies hours later in the hospital to the agonizing grief of his family and friends. Despite having watched the film open with real footage of the incident, the viewer is left devastated and recoiling with anger nonetheless.

"Fruitvale Station" has no happy ending, but it is a remarkably authentic experience—genuine, convincing, and offering the viewer a brief glimpse into one man’s life, cut far too short by injustice. At its heart it serves to showcase the real man behind the news headline, and to give you insight into his own personal struggles, his concerns, his aspirations, and sadly, his unrealized life’s potential.

 

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