Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar, who lives a modest life with his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and young daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal). It’s New Year’s Eve, and we witness Oscar going about his daily chores. Recently fired from his job at a local supermarket, he’s struggling for money – but he won’t let that get in the way of what should be a productive day, as he plans on heading to his mother’s (Octavia Spencer) for her birthday, and then going out in the evening with friends.
Coogler’s decision to show us the real footage early on is an intriguing one, and it benefits the piece so emphatically. From thereon a foreboding element is formed, as those who were previously uninformed about this tale now know instantly what awaits them, and the rest of the piece has such a horrible, uncomfortable feeling to it. At times Fruitvale Station can be unbearable to sit through, particularly in the final third. Coogler implements the time of day often throughout the movie, working like a menacing, ticking bomb, ready to explode. We know exactly what’s coming, we know when it’s coming – and the disquieting atmosphere becomes overwhelming, as you can feel that sensation of dread in the pit of your stomach.
While the story this is based upon is so incredibly upsetting as it is, that doesn’t take anything away from the filmmaker for his masterful execution. Coogler plays so heavily on normality, revelling in the mundane, and trivialising life so effectively. Pensively exploring and studying everyday activities, giving us a really poignant picture of the little moments we all take for granted, which seeks only in enhancing the impact of the finale.
It’s an immensely humanised piece too, and what is vital is that Oscar is shown off for all of his flaws and imperfections, making for a more authentic, real picture. Oscar was a drug dealer, he was in prison not too long before the film is set, and we see a handful of general misdemeanours across the day. But again, it’s this candid, honest exploration which makes the final stages so staggeringly emotional. He wasn’t perfect, far from it. But he was alive, he was kind-hearted, and he had a good family. That’s all that matters when a life is lost – and it’s a notion the director triumphantly abides by. Given the nature of the narrative, the film does get somewhat sentimental at the end, and while in many cases this could prove detrimental, Coogler has already got the viewer so invested into this tale, and so transfixed with this story, that we’re willing to go wherever he leads us.
So be sure to take tissues with you, as this is a tragic, grievous subject matter handled delicately and efficiently. Though in a strange way, there’s something almost inspiring about this film, as it makes you want to value and treasure every precious moment, and live life for what it’s worth. If that’s something that sounds appealing, then you should start by purchasing a ticket to see this movie.