‘Fruitvale’ paints portrait of a life derailed

By Lorena Alvarez
Tustin, Calif.

In the wake of the George Zimmerman trial and the struggle to find justice for Trayvon Martin, Ryan Coogler’s award-winning indie film “Fruitvale Station” comes at just the right time to advance the conversation about race relations in America.

The movie tells the true story of the heart-wrenching 24 hours leading up to and including the 22-year-old Oscar Grant being shot to death by police while handcuffed and face-down on an Oakland train platform in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009.

The movie illustrates the day Grant’s world collapses. We learn that he has cheated on his girlfriend and sold drugs. His frustration is palpable, as we see him assault his manager after he is fired for repeatedly being late for work.

In recounting Grant’s final day, Coogler stays away from the usual polished cinematography, and the shaky camerawork, giving the film a sense of ruggedness. Much of the movie is shot from the perspective of Grant, except for certain key scenes where close-cropped shots of the actors convey the sense that Grant’s end is closing in. A chilling example of this is the final interaction between Grant and his young daughter, where she makes a futile plea for him to stay home on New Year’s Eve.

Michael B. Jordan is authentic and convincing, as he plays Grant like a man who glides through life with assurance. His powerful performance is matched by Octavia Spencer, who plays Grant’s conflicted mother.

The final train station scenes are confusingly and frenetically filmed, much like the events they depict.

“Fruitvale Station” summarizes Grant’s life in one day, and it can tell us only so much about who he was. But it does make a larger point about the unjustified actions of the police, and the tragic death of yet another young black man.

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