I grew up riding the Bay Area’s subway, BART. Save a few drug busts, typically around the 24th-Mission and a few fist fights, typically around Oakland, it was drama-free. In 2009, when I heard of the senseless shooting of Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale Station, I was shocked and disgusted, probably like most of the Bay Area.
When the film surrounding the event, Fruitvale Station, arrived in theatre, I did not see it – too soon. But last night I watched it and mostly, I thought it was well-done.
In case you missed the news, Oscar Grant was a 22 year old man, by no means an angel but trying to get his life in order as best he could. He was shot dead by BART police on New Year’s Day 2009 after a fight broke out on the subway. Passengers captured the event on social media which lead to an absolute outrage by Bay Area residents somewhat rivaling the activism of South Central LA. The officers involved were terminated and some were incarcerated, not long enough for some.
The screenplay by Ryan Coogler is brilliant it’s goal of capturing the details, however small and seemingly disconnected, of one man’s life and his effect on those around him. The scenes and dialogue are constructed beautifully to impart a sense of relatability, to capture the senseless loss, to inject doubt surrounding the subjective details of what went down at Fruitvale and the post-facto reaction from the community. The small insert of Grant’s real-life daughter attending a memorial gathering at the actual Fruitvale BART Station really pulled together the sentiment.
Acting is good by most. Octavia Spencer gives a noteworthy performance as Grant’s mother, a woman struggling to keep her children on a path of doing the right thing without being over-bearing nor overly dramatic. Michael B. Jordan is the show stealer as Grant, walking that tightrope of taking action to be better man with a better life while tying not be distracted by the negative minutiae of his past and present.
The film is shot in docudrama format with a day-in-the-life pace. While I thought it captured some relevant details of Grant’s struggle and well-intended actions he put in place to move his life forward, some scenes did not add much value. I almost think this film would have had more impact if were it made a short.
Some people criticized the film for not addressing the racial element. I can’t say whether or not it was by intent, but focusing on that aspect would have turned the film into something else. I think Coogler’s mission was to tell the story about Grant, his family, his friends and his departure from this life so that he did not become yet another statistic. Focusing on race likely would have upended his intent.