Ryan Coogler dives straight for your conscience with Fruitvale Station, an adaptation of a fatal event that sparked riots across the Bay Area in 2009.
Michael B.Jordan is Oscar, an ex-convict and family man whose moral compass is desperately trying to stay north in spite of the pressures of making a living.
Documenting Oscar’s activities on New Year’s Eve in 2008, Fruitvale begins with an argument between its protagonist and his girlfriend about sex. It’s a seemingly normal argument, cut short by their infant daughter barging in and complaining that she can’t sleep. As they settle down as a family Oscar texts his mother to wish her a happy birthday.
From the off Oscar is portrayed as an ordinary man dealing with consequences beyond his control. His cash flow problems are seemingly only resolved by dealing pot, much to the disapproval of his girlfriend and mother, and a series of flashbacks pinpoint his path from prison to his current situation.
It’s an impressive performance from Jordan, who dares you not to sympathise with his struggles and proves his worth as a leading man. The supporting cast are otherwise agreeable, with Octavia Spencer bringing the only other known name to the table.
Having ditched his stash of weed and spent the evening at his mother’s birthday, Oscar heads into town with his girlfriend to see in the year 2009, and the film reaches its dramatic climax. Coogler ditches subtlety and makes no effort to shield the message of the film as its injustice unravels. Oscar is at heart a decent person and does not deserve his fate, but audiences apparently aren’t able to reach this conclusion independently.
This is an important story, and played with promise by Jordan and his supporting cast, but for a feature length directorial debut Coogler still has a little way to go.