Fruitvale Station, film review: A drama about the random nature of life and death

(15) Ryan Coogler, 84 mins. Starring: Michael B Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer
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The Independent Culture

Ryan Coogler's brilliantly observed and very moving debut feature is based on the true story of the shooting of a 22-year-old African-American man at a railway station in Oakland, California, on New Year's Day 2009.

The sense of foreboding is set with the fuzzy, mobile-phone footage of the incident that opens the film. Most of the action unfolds on a single day, as Oscar (Michael B Jordan), prepares for his mother's birthday, tries to get his job in a grocery store back and takes his daughter to kindergarten. Coogler emphasises the mundane quality of Oscar's life.

In a flashback, we learn that he has served a brief prison sentence. We know he has money problems; that he has lost his job because of his erratic time-keeping and cheated on his girlfriend but he is a likeable character who takes his family responsibilities seriously.

There are portents of the violence that lies ahead – a dying dog hit by a car, a confrontation with another prisoner in the flashback sequence. The film works as a drama about the random nature of life and death. If any of the tiny incidents depicted here had turned out just slightly differently, the fatal confrontation would never have happened. There is also obvious fury at the part that racism played as events took their tragic turn.