Make no mistake, Fruitvale Station has the grit and grime of a socio-political picture assembled to win film festival awards (it bagged both of Sundance’s Grand Jury and Audience Prizes last year) and was quickly snapped up by Harvey Weinstein for added film-market baggage. This is one of those issue films that will no doubt saturate the public consciousness, with its ripped-from-the-headlines nature and its thorny racial debate. But I just can’t help but realise that I might be one of the very few who found Ryan Coogler’s debut film mediocre and slightly exasperating. Beneath all this based-on-factual-events premise, there’s nothing really new that we don’t know about police brutality and the society’s prejudices against the marginal, disenfranchised lives of the many blue-collared workers. The story is doubtlessly tragic, and it makes me furious to think that a guy such as Oscar Grant gets shot by a brute cop in a train station for no lawfully concrete reason.
My main gripe revolves around Oscar’s characterisation and Coogler’s script, both open to manipulations inherent in many true-to-life tales. We know this happened, but Fruitvale Station the Film is as prone to dramatisation as any work of fiction. And for the sake of drama itself, Coogler’s goes to extreme lengths in attempting to draw sympathy from Oscar, but the result feels contrived. In portraying Oscar’s 24 remaining hours of his life prior to the terrible incident (Michael B. Jordan does a fine job, nonetheless), we are shown Oscar the protagonist as a redeeming goody two-shoes, despite losing his job for being perpetually late, being an ex-drug dealer, occasionally cheating on his girlfriend, and somehow ending up in prison in one flashback. But Oscar is also a father, a lover, a son, a philanthropist, a canine lover and part-time patron saint – which makes the shooting of this utterly blameless 22-year old young man the death of hope for all humankind. If it were a documentary shot in real-time, I genuinely believe the nuances in that 24-hour real-time event would be an irrefutably different picture altogether.
*This review has been retrieved from the not-so-distant Cannes Film Festival 2013 past coverage.