Is it encouraging or galling to think that it took a first-time filmmaker to explore cinematically such a significant moment in contemporary African-American history as Grant’s 2008 shooting? Regardless, with Fruitvale Station, Coogler demonstrates an instinctual gift for encompassing complex issues and themes in the intrinsically small and personal. His outstanding debut feature is full of such masterful moments, be it the loss of our protagonist’s job after repeated lateness or his decision to consign his drug-dealing days to the trouble-filled past. Jordan’s Oscar is clearly no angel – we’re first introduced to him charming his way out of an argument with his partner Sophina regarding another woman – but the belief that Grant was on the verge of finally turning his life around once and for all makes his untimely demise all the more devastating for the previously-primed audience.
There are a handful of cloying moments which don’t sit particularly well; a fabricated scene depicting Oscar’s despair over a dying dog is as unnecessary as it is reckless, whilst one can’t help but wonder how many other liberties the director took with the hours leading to Grant’s killing (the symbolic dumping of his last bag of marijuana is another invention). Crucially, and thanks to footage shot at the time by train passengers on camera phones, Coogler doesn’t put a foot wrong in his taut depiction of the shooting. Johannes Mehserle, the officer responsible, remains adamant that his intention was to unholster his taser rather than his pistol, and the film is careful not to infer foul play. What Fruitvale Station does do, however, is lament an age where one fatal lapse in judgement can destroy the lives of not just one, but many.