Fruitvale Station won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance this year, and it is quite obvious why. The film is not just well made but also an important one, given its context. It’s also not a film as much as it is a heartfelt paean for the utter lack of justice in the world.
On New Year’s Eve 2009 America was shocked by an incident of police brutality against a young black man named Oscar Grant at a subway station in California. Onlookers whipped out their cell phones and videotaped the incident – the footage spread like wildfire and the ugly head of racism was paraded over the internet. In Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler recounts this incident with grit and a shade of tightly controlled anger.
Michael B Jordan, who appears in the television series The Wire recreates Oscar with earnest charm, making him the sympathetic everyman without hogging the drama surrounding him. Director Coogler spends majority of the film going through the events that led to the tragedy. Throughout the film we meet Oscar’s family and friends, his struggle to escape the shadow of his incarceration and deal with the lack of job offers. He is a flawed character, with bouts of selflessness followed by moments of violence and temper. And Jordan brings out those traits beautifully, his reactions are raw and real thus making us connect with his character. We know how things are going to pan out for him, but Jordan’s establishment of his character’s infirmity makes the incident at the station all the more tragic.
The innate flaw of the film is that it relies too heavily on the assumption that the audience will already be familiar with Fruitvale. That might work in American theaters but most foreign audiences probably wouldn’t be aware of the incident. It’s a tiny, but important snag, and Coogler tries to bypass it by including real archive footage in the narrative early on. What he does best, however, is he ascertains the racial overtones without sermonizing on them. That makes Fruitvale Station the anti-Crash, and a damn good film to boot.
(First published in MiD Day)