Stop me if you’ve heard this story before – Oscar Grant was a young, unarmed black man who was shot and killed by a police officer while harmlessly lying on the ground. If this sounds familiar, then you might have got him confused with Sean Bell, or Timothy Stansbury, or Ousmane Zongo, or Patrick Dorismond, or Amadou Diallo, or far too many others, including the ongoing furore over Michael Brown. This is a disgracefully familiar tune, but Fruitvale Station’s depiction of its events is a lot more nuanced and artful than a traditional dramatic reconstruction. It portrays the final 24 hours of Grant, culminating in his senseless end, giving us a snapshot portrait of a young man whose life was cut criminally short. Everything from meaningful decisions he made that day to the bland, boring minutiae of a normal person’s life are examined, and knowing how it all ends lends proceedings an air of culpable tragedy.

It’s a bold stylistic choice, and while at times Grant’s final hours are not exactly compelling, that is rather the point. His killing, like so many others, was a sudden and senseless act, a violent exclamation mark to a fairly normal sentence. The fact that a mundane existence could be so brutally ended is a powerful thing to show, even if the efforts to be boring are a little too successful at times. This is all brought to life with a nicely-detailed portrayal of a city (Oakland) with its fair share of problems, and some inspired casting choices against type, challenging viewers by having actors who look unsympathetic turn out to be benign, and vice versa. Grant himself is played with compelling humanity by Michael B Jordan, who gives a human beating heart to a terrible tragedy, evoked here with a film that hums with unspoken anger.

Subject matter that far more people should be talking about10
Making what is essentially a dramatic reconstruction into something much more interesting8
The decision to focus on the mundane details of the protagonist's life7
Letting the facts of this disgraceful incident speak for themselves8
Michael B Jordan's performance, graduating from The Wire9
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
  • They talk about something other than men
Bechdel Test Failures
  • n/a
8Overall Score

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