Ryan Coogler's docudrama Fruitvale Station recounts Dec. 31, 2008, the last day of Oscar Grant's life. By the next day, the 22-year-old Oakland resident would be dead, an unarmed black man shot by a transit cop.
Community outrage followed, but Coogler's film focuses on the hours prior, when Grant (Michael B. Jordan) is simply going about his life. He argues and makes up with his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz), plays with their young daughter, runs errands and eats dinner with his mom (Octavia Spencer).
Fruitvale suffers a bit from earnestness, and compressing multiple aspects of Oscar's life into such a short time undercuts the work's looser day-in-life vibe. But Jordan's engaging, soulful performance, as a complex young man shifting between good and bad instincts, transcends the film's occasionally clunky mechanics.
The film opens with the actual grainy cell-phone footage of the chaotic scene at the BART station in which Grant is shot. Yet when Coogler restages this scene — a late-night fight on the train that spills out onto the platform — viewers may still hope for a better outcome for Grant. But like the Trayvon Martin case, which shares similarities with this story, the bitter end is already written. Fruitvale is another tab in the ongoing national debate about how to script better outcomes.