"I'm good, I'm good, I'm gonna be good."
Fruitvale Station is one of those small independent films that found a connection with audiences and critics alike ever since it was released early last year in the Sundance Film Festival winning both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize. Nearly an year has passed until I finally was able to watch this captivating and tragic film based on the last day of Oscar Grant's life. This is Ryan Coogler's debut film, and he should have no trouble financing his upcoming projects after the breakthrough with Fruitvale Station which he also happened to write. It's a passionate and powerful film that benefits from a stellar performance by Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle and Friday Night Lights). He is the driving force of this film and the reason why the final 15 minutes hit our emotional chords so hard. The injustice he suffers from police brutality makes our blood boil and ultimately Coogler achieves the effect he was looking for. Since the film is based on a true story and we already know the tragic outcome, I thought it would take away much of the dramatic effect, but I was mistaken because Ryan Coogler uses this knowledge to build the story and make us care for the main protagonist. It makes us question the what ifs and what would've happened if he decided to listen to his daughter and stay home, or travel by car instead of train. It is those small moments that connect with the audience and make us route for him despite the impending doom. It is a well crafted social critique about an important issue that hits home.
Oscar Grant (Micheal B. Jordan) wakes up on the last day of 2008 convinced he's going to turn his life around, making this his New Year's resolution. Trying to get his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) -who also happens to be the mother of his four year old daughter, Tatiana (Ariana Neal)- to forgive him for a past infidelity and forming a family is his first priority. Next he tries to get his recently lost job back at a local store, but that proves to be impossible. He has promised his mother, Wanda (Octavia Spencer), that he will never return to prison so selling drugs is no longer a means to make a living. Despite the difficulties he's facing he's still focused on turning his life around while trying to support his family. So the film continues to follow Oscar as he interacts with the people that cross his path on that last day of the year until the inevitable tragic event that will take place in the train station later that night.
I agree with some of the criticism that this film has received for foreshadowing the tragic event throughout the course of the day and trying to put a halo on him by focusing on how he was going to turn his life around. The scene with the dog is one classic example of that and yes it is manipulative and tries a little too hard to win over our sympathies. A mistake that a newcomer like Ryan Coogler can correct as he continues to grow as a promising film maker. Perhaps that is the weakest part of the film, but I can see how a person like him would want to turn his life around considering it was the last day of the year and we usually do make many resolutions during this time. I also agree with the fact that there is probably nothing true about the events that took place during that day other than the tragic outcome at the station which was recreated very well considering the authentic footage I've seen from the incident. But I do have to defend Coogler here because in a way I think we all tend to put a halo on the people we love once they are gone remembering the good things about them and not so much on the negative aspects. However there are moments where we get to see glimpses of the dark side in Jordan's performance which actually enhances the film, like when he confronts the manager. There is a perfect balance in that scene between him trying to help out a girl at the store and then threatening his former boss. Those small moments show the brilliance in Jordan's performance and Coogler's direction. Add that to the emotionally engaging final 15 minutes of the film and you will have a hard time arguing your case against this film.