I wrote this review in response to a opportunity to become a junior film critic and be mentored by other professional critics. As of right now the judging is still underway and to apply we had to provide a 300 word review. I found out about the opportunity very close to the deadline which, coupled with the slim word count, forced me to think fast and really hone what I was trying to say. Anyway, it clocks in at 299 words and I hope I can at least get shortlisted.
I started 2015 by visiting Fruitvale Station, a film set on the last day of 2008. Written and directed by Ryan Coogler in what was his first feature film, it follows the last hours of Oscar Grant’s life before he was shot dead by a police officer on a train platform in the early hours of the first day of the New Year. We have only to cast our minds back a few short months to the events in Ferguson for a similarly contentious, tragic tale of a citizen losing their life at the hands of a police officer. It is a tale that is sadly familiar, with the spectre of race looming large alongside the respective differences in authority and social outcome that manifests itself starkly by way of two opposite colours: black and white.
Fruitvale Station though is a film that succeeds in providing a wider emotional palette than just black and white, aided by a terrific performance from Michael B. Jordan, who gives us angst, vulnerability, anger and humility. It is a layered interpretation in a film that at its core bristles with a social conscience.
The question then is what is that social conscience telling us? What are we to take from the story of Oscar Grant? As we follow Oscar during his final day, we see him play with a stray dog he sees in the street, shortly before the dog is hit and killed by a car. The driver doesn’t stop and we see Oscar stricken with grief. The message seems then, that life is cheap. But more than that, framed within the wider social and cultural narrative, the message is that, even in today’s America, black lives are still the cheapest, the least valuable and that, again, is a sadly familiar tale.