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Fruitvale Station (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 84 minutes.

Not for children.

Starting with mobile phone camera film of the actual killing of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) at the BART Fruitvale Station in Oakland, the film then flashes back to develop the character of Grant so we know him pretty well when he’s killed once again at the end of the film. The first hour is very slow and drags far too much leading up to the climax.

Writer/director Ryan Coogler doesn’t pull any punches as he paints Grant as a hot-tempered drug dealer who fathers an out of wedlock daughter with his girlfriend, Sophina (Melanie Diaz) and is “thinking” about marrying Sophina. He doesn’t work much but she does. He’s an ex-con. The only things admirable about him are Sophina, his daughter, and his apparently unwed mother, Wanda (Octavia Spencer). Without comment, this paints a devastating picture of what’s wrong with black society, the breakdown of the traditional family with strong unwed mothers raising irresponsible sons who continue the irresponsibility of their fathers by fathering other children without the benefit of a marital commitment.

Even so, Coogler creates a relatively sympathetic picture of Oscar leading up to the tragedy at Fruitvale Station. The acting is exceptionally good. While I thought the first hour interminably boring, it is more than made up for by the way Coogler stages the deadly confrontation and an ending that leaves one in tears.

What follows is a spoiler, so if you want to see the film without knowing, stop here.

This was a case in which the legal system showed a dismal weakness. The transit officer who shot Grant claimed that he thought he was reaching for his stun gun, but pulled his hand gun instead and administered a deadly wound. His punishment? He was convicted of “involuntary manslaughter,” sentenced to three years and got out in one. This is ridiculous. People who are given the right to carry a gun and use it should be held to an extremely high standard. If they are so irresponsible that they cannot tell the difference between a stun gun and a real gun, they should be responsible for their actions. An innocent man died as a result of this person’s actions. Maybe what he did does fit the definition of “involuntary manslaughter” but it was also criminally negligent and the penalty for a man’s death should have been much more severe than a three year sentence and back out on the street after only serving one year while an innocent Oscar Grant lies moldering in his grave for all eternity.