“Based on a true story” is not a reliable label for film in authenticity when it comes to the facts of any true story. Either over dramatizing or fictionalizing events in order to fit the framework of a film and get across whatever goal is set out for it. With this film essentially get what you get. A simple story that doesn’t delve too much in the person of interest life for dramatic purposes instead getting to know the person as a common everyday individual. Sure that doesn’t sound like allot to care for, but in reality sometimes you don’t need allot to go on for a true story to leave an impact.
Fruitvale Station tells the purportedly true story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008. Characterization in any film is essential none more so than in biopics with a heavy empathizes of getting to know the person we’re following. Going against the norm of developing protagonist Oscar Grant III beyond what we’re given. It spends little time exploring his past focusing on what Grant was like on a daily basis. Traditionally a lack of character development would be a narrative drawback especially from someone who dissects the plot of every film he views, yet here it’s not a drawback. The film remembers Oscar Grant III was an actual person receiving most of his development through his action on his final day. His daily routine, his conversations, his life style, are all things shown as small moments in the film with no hint of any of it being a plot point. Because of how the film open we know where the story is headed thus making these moments powerful we know the outcome to Oscar life story. Becoming a tragedy that he’ll never be able to experience his routine like the ones we have of our own. Taking culture out of the picture and what you’re left with is a common individual. Not more so evident to remove itself from the common train of thought than once again through Oscar action. On the outside a Hollywood film would have immediately made Oscar Grant a hoodlum by way he dressed instead of his personality. By doing so the story aims out to defeat not just a label put on Oscar, but also remove idea that Oscar was extraordinary in any way. What comes across is nothing extraordinary, nothing dramatically heavy, nor even a traditional film narrative in that sense, but a day in the life of a regular person who like of all us can lose it at any time and the tragedy behind that.
Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar Grant III with the true humanity and power necessary to make a character like this work. Jordan switch from sensitive father to hardened thug seamlessly. He is a layered soul in this film, on one hand a convict and a known offender, but on the other, a true human spirit, sometimes immature, sometimes contradictory, but invaluably loving and compassionate to his friends and family. Director Ryan Coogler makes Fruitvale Station more than a film or a basic dramatization, but an event in itself. He doesn’t sensationalize any particular aspect. Coogler’s maturity accentuates as he doesn’t make the accusation that Grant’s death was racial in any way. He leaves that up to us to decide. Yes, Oscar and his friends are black, and racial profiling certainly may have played a part in what happened. But the movie doesn’t exploit America’s racial tension. There are characters that deal drugs, but they aren’t depicted as violent, greedy thugs. Some are characters that are single mothers, but they aren’t bitter welfare queens whose lives are crumbling around them. Most of the scenes are captured as if the viewer is a voyeur, or a fly-on-the-wall, the scenes at the train station take on a special kind of observant focus. We are almost a passenger on this train, in an unblinking, but often foggy and unfocused view of a situation that gets out of hand and ends with a senseless death of an innocent man.
Fruitvale Station is a masterfully crafted biopic that while not as in depth as some might hope it to be gets across the person of interest as a common person and removing the culture from the equation. It’s a film that shows the true essence of enjoying the routine that is our life. In any tragedy sometimes all we get to know about a person is through a couple of sentences sending across a series of emotions. As simple as it might be its understanding on people transcends beyond its small scope.