Fruitvale Station came recommended to me by positive reviews and an interesting real event on which the movie is based upon. Sadly having watched the movie I found it a rather biased and one-sided look at the tragedy that went down on Fruitvale Station Januari 1st 2009. For those who don’t know, and that will be a lot of people since this never really got a wide coverage outside of the US, 22 year old Oscar Grant came back from the San Francisco celebrating New Years when he and his friends got mixed up in a fight on a BART train. The BART police comes to the scene and when Oscar, face down on the ground, resists arrest one of the officers on scene shoots him in the back. A shot that would turn out to be fatal. This was all captured by dozens of cell phones recording the whole incident.
So Fruitvale Station presents us with the last day of Oscar Grant’s life. A day which has been probably made out of elements from several days and some artistic liberties taken by the director. Oscar is an ex-con who was in jail for drug dealing. He is just on parole and loses his job at a supermarket for being late too often on the last day of the year. He’s portrayed as a nice guy who promises to be faithful to his girlfriend, has a good relationship with his mother and apparently breaks with the drug dealing business once and for all. The young man shown is one who is on a path to turn his life around, a life which will only have a few hours left. There are a few glimpses here and there of an Oscar who has a short fuse and a certain temperament. He threatens the owner of the supermarket and is more than willing to stand up to insults made by a gang member. The movie never really focusses on Oscar’s past crimes.
Another thing which the movie doesn’t focus on are the police officers on scene. They are portrayed as one dimensional characters whose names aren’t even mentioned and made out to be raging bulls trying to bring peace to a scene which apparently already was peaceful as soon as they were on scene. The cops are shown using violence against Oscar’s group, putting them against a wall and trying to put them in handcuffs. The only remotely humanizing element was the shocked look on the face of the shooting officer after shooting Oscar.
“De mortuis nihil nisi bonum” is a Latin phrase for what translates freely to “Speak no ill of the dead”. That’s exactly what this movie does. Oscar Grant is almost made out to be a saint and who does almost nothing but good deeds on his last day alive. It paints a biased picture of a man who somehow did manage to get into a fight on a train and, probably fearing a parole violation, resisted arrest.
Though with only a running time of 85 minutes it seemingly takes forever to get to the eventual shooting. Oscar’s life isn’t all that interesting: He drops his daughter off at a daycare, gets a card for his mother’s birthday, throws away a bag of weed. The only recurring elements are small signs that foreshadow his demise; the dead dog in the street and his mother advising him to take the train instead of the car.
The only real power of Fruitvale Station lies in the actors. Michael B. Jordan has an engaging screen presence, one which he already showed in The Wire and he’s aided by Melonia Diaz and Octavia Spencer who has the most gut wrenching scenes in the movie as his mother.
Fruitvale Station doesn’t shed a light of absolute truth to the shooting and that was something I did hope for. It just covers the last day of the life of a young man who wasn’t all that interesting.