Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) is a 22-year old man living in San Francisco, hoping to better his life around his daughter, Tatiana, and his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz). He’s lived a life of drugs and hardships, dealing weed and dope while trying to make a living in a world that keeps challenging him. He wants to work in a supermarket, but they fire him for being late despite his pleas. He could deal drugs, but doesn’t want to go down that path again. That’s how he got in trouble in the first place, as we see in a flashback from 2007 where his mother, Wanda (Octavia Spencer) visits him for the last time. They have a riff because of his decisions, but they’ve all been for the betterment of not only his own life, but his family’s.
Michael B. Jordan’s performance in the lead is a beautiful piece of human connection, helping us identify with a young man who has made poor decisions, continues to do so, but loves more than most characters I’ve seen on screen. He connects us with someone who has hurt the ones around him, whether that be by cheating on his girlfriend or not being a father to his daughter as he’s in jail, and gives a tender examination of a troubled man. It’s one of the best male leads I’ve encountered this year, particularly in the film’s closing moments as he’s shot and killed by a police officer for no real reason. It’s a savage act of violence that’s even handled with a caring intimacy that so few directors can achieve, let alone making commentary on race relations that deserves attention.
Ryan Coogler’s script guides the film masterfully through morally divided characters and makes two-sided observations. This is a film that avoids an obvious message and doesn’t bombard us with emotions; it’s all the more devastating for its low-key, nuanced approach. The film’s also filled with strong supporting performances, particularly Octavia Spencer and Melonie Diaz; they not only help our protagonist become well-rounded, but stand on their own as loving figures. This is a film that pleas for humanity and life, observing how quickly that can be taken away from us. Behind every murder, no matter the circumstances, is a person who’s connected with others. They’ve made an impact on someone’s life; Fruitvale Station has made that impact, too. It’s one of the year’s best films.
Grade: ★★★★★ (out of 5)