It’s a common tendency in people to canonize those who are victims of crime, especially when their victimhood has the tinge of racial discrimination or repression. Such victims deserve sympathy and mourning, but no one is perfect, and it shouldn’t be necessary to see them as saints viciously struck down by incarnations of arbitrary evil. Thankfully, Fruitvale Station does not portray the late Oscar Grant as a stand-in for what is right and good in the world, but rather as a troubled young man trying and not entirely succeeding at turning his life around. It’s this treatment which makes his inevitable shooting all the more powerful and our emotional response to his death more impactful. He isn’t some caricature. He’s a flawed human being, whose murder is worthy of our concern, outrage and action.
As art, it’s unfortunate that Fruitvale Station begins with the cell phone footage of Grant’s shooting at the titular BART station, creating a frame which makes everything up to that night an extended prologue. Perhaps it’s because of this introduction that every moment of the film has an ominous feeling, with Grant in constant motion towards death. However accurate it may be to his last day, there are simply too many significant events to be real. This all makes that final, intense ride far too predestined. Yet once night falls, the film moves from excessively foreshadowed dramatization to tense, real world tragedy.
Contrived as the preceding events may be, Michael B. Jordon (Wallace from The Wire) is strikingly natural. Even when the staging tend towards manipulative, Jordan captures Grant’s internal contradiction in a realistic fashion, from the playful yet competitive love shown to his daughter, to his vengeful, confrontational rage. Complimenting him is a strong performance by Octavia Spencer. Yet all her tears are undercut by the first five minutes of seeing Grant shot. Knowing what will happen makes her prayers hollow.
Of course, looking at Fruitvale Station strictly as a piece of art removes half of what makes it so worth watching. There were very few people in attendance when I saw the movie, but every one of us sat in shocked silence as the credits rolled. Like Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, Fruitvale Station deserves open and thoughtful discussion about why young men like Grant wind up in such situations and how we as a society can prevent this from happening again. For a film which depicts an ending, Fruitvale Station begs to be a beginning. [subscribe2]