Coogler's film takes place in the last 24 hours of Oscar's life, making a late start on his resolutions for 2008 on his mother's birthday, which happens to coincide with New Year's Eve. He's recently got back together with the mother of his child after a bout of infidelity and even in the face of being fired from his job at a butcher's counter, he has resolved to stop selling drugs to support his family. We know, but he doesn't, that he's headed for a fatal confrontation with the police at the titular train station, as we watch him try to turn his life around.
Your appreciation of Fruitvale Station will depend entirely on how you feel about emotional manipulation. Whether they're open about it or not, films are meant to be emotionally manipulative- not every film has to be as cloying and desperate as a Marley & Me, but there's no enjoyment in being aloof, arms crossed and indifferent as a default mood. Oscar's story is undeniably tragic and Coogler has slathered it with dramatic irony in a way that some may find unpalatable, if not straight up unbelievable.
Michael B. Jordan's lead performance is a tremendous credit to the dramatisation of these events. He's given a leg-up by the fact that the film is eager to portray Oscar as a good guy who just hasn't fulfilled his potential, and as scripted, he teeters on the edge of sainthood, but Jordan brings more to it than that. After the first hour, by the time things start spiralling towards their conclusion, you start hoping against hope that maybe things will turn out differently. You really don't want him to die.
The strong supporting cast is led by Octavia Spencer as Oscar's long-suffering mother, Melonie Diaz as his exasperated girlfriend and the adorable Ariana Neal as his four-year-old daughter. By the time the cops arrive, headed up by Kevin Durand and Chad Michael Murray as the most recognisable of the aggressors, they might as well be accompanied by the Imperial March, but this is not the film's undoing. If anything, it's from this point to the end where the film packs the most power and any movie tropes that might have seemed false or convoluted up to this point entirely give way to the climactic emotional wallop.
Fruitvale Station is now showing at selected cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Fruitvale Station, why not leave a comment below? If you do need a bit of cheering up, the director's name keeps reminding me of Mitch Hurwitz's recent guest appearance on Community...