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Fruitvale Station Review

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Based on real events, the film follows 22 year-old Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) through encounters with friends, family, enemies and strangers during the course of a single fateful day.

★★★★

In the early hours of January 1, 2009, Oscar Grant, a resident of Oakland, California, was on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train home after celebrating the New Year in San Francisco. On arriving at his local station, Fruitvale, he and other passengers were met by BART police officers responding to a report of fighting on the train. Grant and other passengers were detained and put under arrest. In the highly charged scene that followed, a single gunshot rang out, announcing a tragedy that sparked fury in the Bay Area and across America.

Outlining the fateful moment that gives writer-director Ryan Coogler’s debut film its devastating emotional punch is not quite the spoiler it might seem. Coogler deliberately opens with the incident, using footage shot by witnesses at the scene. Thereafter, he rewinds to present a riveting dramatisation of Grant’s life on the day leading up to the shooting. It’s an overwhelmingly intimate portrait of a flawed human being striving to be a better man.

On New Year’s Eve, 22 year-old Oscar Grant (superbly played by Michael B. Jordan) wakes up with the intention of making good on his resolutions — to confront his issues and to make a better life for his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), his four year-old daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal) and long-suffering mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer). Modest-enough aspirations, but there is something quietly heroic about Grant, even though Coogler is careful not to paint him as a martyr. We see glimpses of a troubled past, including a spell of jail time and flashes of a violent temper. For all that, as we follow his interactions with family and friends, particularly scenes involving his daughter and his mother’s birthday, we develop an increasingly strong empathy with him. This is, you feel, an essentially decent man fighting to make a little headway. You don’t have to know what it’s like to be young and black and struggling to get by in unforgiving circumstances (Oakland, you can be sure, is no Hay-on-Wye) to identify with that.

That Grant’s story plays out under the shadow of impending disaster makes it all the more heart-rending and compelling. And the harrowing finale yet more tragic.

A deeply moving drama played out on the small stage of ordinary people’s lives. An unforgettable performance from Jordan invests Grant with real humanity, while Coogler’s unvarnished script and sure-handed direction propel the film to its inevitable,

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