Debut director Ryan Coogler's Fruitvale Station is a film based on a real-life incident where a black man named Oscar Grant was shot dead by a BART police officer in a case of racial hate-crime in America. Critics are moved by this honest account that leads up to the incident itself.
"Shot largely on hand-held super-16mm video and unfolding with a grainy veneer of docudramatic realism, Coogler’s first movie is a triumph of social-realist emotional engagement. Thanks partly to the casting of the magnetic Michael B. Jordan, but largely to the filmmaker’s careful observation of heart-tugging domestic incidentals," writes Geoff Pevere in The Globe and the Mail.
But Pevere wasn't the only critic Coogler impressed. "First-time filmmaker Coogler gives Fruitvale Station a sense of documentary-like immediacy and a frightening jolt of reality with the first scene, which is filmed not by him, but the witnesses to Grant’s death early on New Year’s Day 2009," writes Linda Barnard in The Star.
"This low-budget drama succeeds because of the truth of the story and a compelling performance from Jordan. It means more people will know about what happened to Oscar Grant III and perhaps be spurred to seek justice elsewhere in the world," Barnard adds.
Likewise, Tom Long notes in Detroit News, "To his huge credit, first-time writer-director Ryan Coogler doesn’t lean on Oscar’s fate as he follows him through the day, he just lets it hang over the film like a ghost approaching. We see the good in Oscar — dropping Tatiana off at day care, arranging his mother’s birthday party, helping a white woman figure out how to fry fish — and become captivated by his jaunty spirit even as impending problems mount."
"But we also see the Oscar who’s trapped in a hood persona, threatening his former boss in hopes of getting his job back. He’s as much a prisoner of the street as a creature of it."
So how good is the actor as Oscar? "Extraordinarily human performance by Michael B. Jordan," writes Long.
But the plot seems to be the real winner here.
"And so we see him (Oscar) buying fish for his mother’s birthday dinner that night, pleading with his old boss (unsuccessfully) for his job back, taking his little girl to day care, talking to family members on the phone, trying to shake away his past, planning the evening’s New Year’s Eve festivities in the city — and, finally, on a stretcher in a coldly lit hospital morgue, viewed by his heartbroken mother. Coogler has one misstep — a scene in which Oscar watches a dog die feels overly laden with symbolism and foreshadowing — but otherwise “Fruitvale Station” is an eloquent memorial for a man who barely experienced life, and a haunting reminder of how quickly it can be lost," writes Moira Macdonald in Seattle Times.
Lisa Kennedy points out how the director tries to humanise the character of Oscar. "It's hard not to watch Fruitvale Station with a coiled dread. When his mother insists with apprehension that Oscar and Sophina take the train into San Francisco for the night's festivities, it's just so sad. Yet, Coogler's greatest achievement may be in reminding us that Grant was a work in progress with people who loved him in spite of his flaws and because of his hopes," she writes in The Denver Post.
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a perfect score of 94& on the tomatometer with the comment, "Passionate and powerfully acted, Fruitvale Station serves as a celebration of life, a condemnation of death, and a triumph for star Michael B. Jordan."
The film was screened at the 2013 Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section and later went on to win both The Grad Jury Prize and The Audience Award for U.S Dramatic Film at the Sundance Film Festival.