On New Year’s Day 2009, 22-year-old Oscar Grant‘s life was taken by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle in Oakland, California, leaving behind his longterm girlfriend and 4-year-old daughter. While Oscar Grant has perished, his story and spirit lives on in Fruitvale, a devastating dramatization chronicling the final hours before his tragic death.

Captured on separate cellular devices, this infuriating event immediately sparked a cultural uprise across America. And yet, freshman director Ryan Coogler does not attempt to sensationalize this story or its characters. Drawing from discussions with Grant’s family and friends, Fruitvale is said to be about “90% factual, 10% fictional.” Which seems accurate considering every character comes off as genuine and flawed human-beings.

Grant (Michael B. Jordan) and his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) especially break one down to the bone with their ongoing struggles. Jobless and recently let out of prison, Grant is attempting to change his life (as many of us are). He’s done (ostensibly) selling drugs, being an absent parent and an unfaithful lover. We’re privy to only his last day, which Coogler delivers effectively. Beyond our protagonist, Fruitvale struck gold when casting Octavia Spencer as Grant’s mother, Wanda. Frustrated with Oscar’s past and worried for his future, Spencer’s heartbreaking performance is the soul of the film.

Neither manipulative nor transcendent, it becomes evident that Coogler is far more concerned with tackling Grant’s demise, rather than crafting an earth-shattering piece of filmmaking.

Coogler makes subtle commentary on the proliferation of violence, and how it has become deeply ingrained into our society. We focus on one accident up until the next one transpires. In fact, it often feels as if there’re too many tragedies to keep track of and too little time to change our culture and rectify our mistakes.

Alas, the longer takes convey Coogler’s true intention for the film: to shed light on a normal man struggling through the hardships of life, only to be shockingly struck down by the law. But aside from being just a simplistic snapshot of Grant’s final hours, Fruitvale is a telling and touching movie, serving as a pertinent social and cultural reminder not to forget the life and times of Oscar Grant.

And after the enraptured crowd-pleaser that is Fruitvale, forget we shall not.

Grade: B

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