Film review: Fruitvale Station (15)

Fruitvale Station. Picture: BFI

Fruitvale Station. Picture: BFI

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AT approximately 9.15am on January 1, 2009, 22-year-old Oscar Grant III died on the operating table of Highland Hospital in Oakland, California.

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Several hours earlier, the young black man and his friends were detained by police at Fruitvale Station on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) rail system that serves San Francisco.

During chaotic scenes on the platform, one of the officers shot Grant in the back as he was being detained face down on the ground.

Footage captured by witnesses on mobile phones and cameras sparked protests across the city.

Fruitvale Station dramatises the final 24 hours in the life of Grant (Michael B Jordan), recounted in chronological order except for a single emotionally devastating flashback in which the young man recalls a visit from his mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer) to San Quentin Correctional Facility to hammer home the damage he is doing to his young daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal).

Fruitvale Station is a gripping portrait of a flawed man, who struggles to rebuild bridges and atone for his sins but always seems to be dragged back into the mire.

Like the train that carried Oscar and his friends home from the New Year’s Eve fireworks, Cooger’s film has a relentless sense of momentum and won’t be deviated from its tragic course, no matter how hard we will it.

Jordan is terrific in the lead role - charming and volatile, cocksure yet desperately unsure how he will pay next month’s rent.

Melonie Diaz is luminous as Grant’s girlfriend Sophina, and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer is mesmerising, staring at her boy’s lifeless body and sobbing, “I told him to catch the BART. I didn’t know they were gonna hurt him.”

Cooger opens with footage of the actual shooting and he retains the gritty realism in acutely observed scenes of family life.

His script speaks from the heart and touches and rends ours with every word.