The difficulty with dramatising true-life events – particularly incendiary ones from the recent past – is knowing just how much fiction to infuse in that reality. It’s a problem that haunts debut writer-director Ryan Coogler’s otherwise assured depiction of the hours preceding Oscar Grant’s tragic death at the hands of Bay Area Rapid Transit police on New Year’s Day, 2009.
Michael B Jordan plays Grant and we follow his last 24 hours as he struggles to support his young family and kick a life of crime that’s already seen him serve time. Jordan’s subtle performance impresses, and the aesthetic is raw and vital, but there’s clumsiness to the storytelling Fruitvale Station struggles to overcome. There are several scenes of wilful sentimentality, clunky foreshadowing and faintly crass attempts to elevate Grant to martyrdom that really disappoint, given admirable efforts to maintain naturalism and a respectful tone elsewhere. It’s an emotive film about an emotive incident, but an unmolested account of Grant’s demise could have had so much more impact. [Chris Fyvie]