Ryan Coogler makes his directorial debut in a powerful drama that recounts the true story behind the shooting of Oscar Grant by a transport police officer.
On New Year’s Day in 2009, a 22 year-old man called Oscar Grant was making his way home with his girlfriend and a group of friends from celebrating the New Year in San Francisco. After a fracas on a BART train in the early hours, some of the group were detained on the platform by police, and Grant was shot by an officer. He died in hospital.
That moment – at Fruitvale Station – was captured by many of the train passengers on their smartphones, and the footage is used at the start of the film. What follows is the story of the man at the centre of this tragic and controversial event, in what is a powerful portrayal of the fabric and fragility human life.
The impressive Michael B. Jordan paints a picture of a man trying to reinvent himself. Attempting to leave behind a life of crime, Oscar Grant tries to be a better father, a better son and a better person. Through a superb performance from the young actor, we see all of that begin to come to fruition, as well as glimpses of his inner demons.
A subtle layer of emotion runs throughout the film, brought to the surface brilliantly by Octavia Spencer as his mother, and Melonie Diaz as his girlfriend. These are women who had clearly suffered, but they had seen Grant turn a corner and believed in what he was trying to become. Family gatherings and heartfelt moments with his young daughter show us a man who was determined to make amends.
What happened that day remains a highly charged issue. The officer responsible was initially charged with murder. During trial, he claimed he mistook the pistol he fired for a Taser. The jury returned a verdict of involuntary manslaughter and he served just 11 months in prison. To this day, Grant’s death is remembered at annual memorials where the events took place.
Walking away from this film, the narrative of injustice that runs throughout really does ring true. This was a tragedy that resonated not only in Oakland, where the shooting happened, but across the whole o f America. As well as being a superb piece of filmmaking and writing that tells an important story of what happened, it’s also a thought-provoking tribute to what could have been.