There’s no shortage in the number of movies based on a historical tragedy. It is a spine-tingling experience, watching people going through the catastrophe depicted on-screen. It is natural to feel great sorrow towards the victim. After all, the narration tends to focus on their life, their backstory and their point of view to make you feel the full emotional weight of the disastrous event when it occurs.
And then it ends in title-cards spelling out the aftermath. Must there always be this single formula?
Ryan Coogler takes a different approach. He chooses to depict simple life events, take no stance and still gut-punch you with the tragedy that befalls the protagonist in his directional debut – Fruitvale Station. This semi-biographical film portrays the last day in Oscar Grant’s life before he was fatally shot by BART Police Officers. Every moment is focused on a single day in Grant’s life and his relationship with his friends and family members. Michael B. Jordan plays the lead sincerely. He has no unnecessary quirks or mannerisms, but you can be sure that his performance will stay with you. Melonie Diaz is a natural as Sophia, Grant’s girlfriend. Special praise goes to Octavia Spencer’s performance as Wanda. She gives a strong performance as a grief-stricken mother without overdoing it.
Ryan Coogler’s narrative choices may be different than the standard, but they are no less capable. His strong direction takes you into Oscar’s psyche without making you feel overtly sympathetic to his plight. You won’t take his side every time, but it doesn’t stop you from holding your breath as you dread the tragedy you know is coming.
Coogler manages to set himself apart from the rest by relying less on emotional tugging and focusing plainly on events. This makes Fruitvale Station a testament to quality, inventive film-making.