With his debut feature, writer-director Ryan Coogler recreates a real-life event with remarkable artistry. Even though the factual story is overwhelmed with emotion and political opinion, he never lets either swamp this film, remaining earthy and realistic in ways that allow the audience to experience what happens in a startlingly intimate, complex way.
Set over one day, New Year's Eve 2008, the film follows Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), a 23-year-old on the cusp of some pivotal life choices. He loves his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and their young daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal), so knows he has to stop dealing drugs and chasing women. This morning he lost his job just before throwing a birthday party for his mother (Octavia Spencer). And now he's heading across the bay to San Francisco with Sophina and his pals to celebrate 2009. But on the way home, a fight breaks out as their train pulls into Fruitvale Station, and two transport cops (Kevin Durand and Chad Michael Murray) take heavy-handed action to calm the situation.
The film opens with actual video footage of the fateful moment, as captured on a witness' mobile phone, so there's no surprise about where this is heading. Even so, the climactic sequence is so shocking that the emotionally devastation is almost unbearable. As is the outrage that police are allowed to profile racially, which in this case turned an easily resolved situation into something fatal. Amazingly, Coogler never loses his cool, fluidly writing and directing with a grounded honesty that makes everything that much more urgent.
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