When Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) had just over twenty-four hours to live, he was at home with his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) in their bedroom, having an argument about his infidelity to her, which was all the worse since they had a young daughter to bring up, but Oscar managed to calm her down with his assurances he would never stray again, and all three of them settled down to sleep, though not before he texted his mother (Octavia Spencer) birthday wishes. The next day they still had not made up their mind how they would see in the New Year, for it was December the 31st 2008, but Oscar was quite content to go out; before that, he was putting off some explaining and excuses about losing his job...
Fruitvale Station was based on a true story of a young man who may have been a criminal but was also a boyfriend, son and father who was shot while being arrested by the San Francisco transit police in the early hours of the first day of 2009. Sadly, by the stage it had reached a wider release it was all too relevant to the news in the United States where riots had been started thanks to other young African-Americans getting shot dead by the white cops, leading to accusations of a racist police force holding sway over entire communities in that nation, and indeed the death of Grant had sparked protests and riots itself. That this film began with actual footage of the event captured on a phone only made it more vital.
The director was Ryan Coogler, making his feature debut about a subject close to his heart as he had lived around the area featured in the film and had previously been pleased with its racial diversity. With support from the likes of Forest Whitaker (who produced but didn't appear) and Octavia Spencer (who produced and did appear), he managed to get the production off the ground and into the national debating arena, where it seems there were two reactions. One, you would note all too sadly that this tale was played out far too often across the States, and while the film offered no solutions it was highlighting a pressing issue, or two, you would be most put out when you discovered Coogler had invented parts of his script to make Oscar more sympathetic.
If the second point bothered you, then welcome to the movies, you must be new here, as biopics did not exactly have a long history of sticking precisely to every last detail of the facts. That said, there were perhaps too many points where Coogler was looking that bit too benevolently at Oscar for the sake of prompting tears in the audience's eyes by the end, and knowing how he was going to end his day would only contribute to that as we saw, for example, him picking up a dog that has been the victim of a hit and run, which never happened, or him playing with his daughter (Ariana Neal) in a fashion that suggested he was the world's greatest dad - it was a shade too contrived to paint him as blameless when most watching would happily go along with the notion that if you've gotten into a fight on a train, you didn't deserve to be shot for that.
Other scenes such as where Oscar contemplatively visits the seashore to fling his bag of cannabis into the ocean to show he was giving up drug dealing were also made up, reminiscent of a cop thrillers where one character is just about to retire and winds up meeting a bleak end for purposes of story. Yet for all these reservations, the fact remained in the lead role Michael B. Jordan was doing a fine job of selling the character as someone who, at twenty-two years of age, no matter that he had already spent time in jail, nevertheless had most of his life potentially ahead of him and the lesson that we all have the chance to turn our lives around if we have strayed from the straight and narrow was well put across by the actor and the scenes he was given. He had been in the business of acting for a while by this point, including episodes of The Wire on television, but Fruitvale Station was his breakout role as he, as well as Melonie Diaz, proved themselves adept at carrying a movie. Otherwise, this may have been problematic, but not as much as needlessly getting shot by the cops. Music by Ludwig Göransson.