Fruitvale Station

August 8, 2015 - Before Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and before Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, there was Oscar Grant III in Oakland, California. The death of this young black man at the hands of a white transit cop is recounted in this R-rated biopic from 2013. Michael B. Jordan (The Fantastic Four) stars as Grant. Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) plays his mother and gets credit as a co-producer. Forest Whitaker also has a producing credit.

The movie opens with actual cell phone video of a commotion on the platform at Fruitvale Station in Oakland, a stop on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. The commotion involves several black men and several transit police officers. Then, a shot rings out. It's early in the morning on New Year's Day, 2009.

The scene then shifts to the previous day or two as 22-year-old Oscar tries to get his life together. He has a girlfriend and a young daughter, but he has no job and no money. He's an ex-con who did time for what we assume are drug charges. We see Oscar still has a stash of pot, but then we see him get rid of it. It looks like Oscar wants a new start in the New Year.

New Year's Eve also happens to be the birthday of Grant's mother, Wanda. The whole family gathers to celebrate. It's Wanda who urges Oscar and his friends to take the train into San Francisco for the New Year's Eve celebrations. That way, she figures, they won't get caught drinking and driving. But, on the way home, a scuffle on the train leads to a tragedy she could have never foreseen.

Overall review: *** I don't recall hearing anything about this case when it happened. Maybe it didn't get the national attention that more recent cases have received; maybe I just wasn't paying attention. Having said that, the director did a pretty good job of fleshing out a real-life character that he never had the opportunity to meet in person. Oscar's no angel, but he's made out to be a decent guy who's finally ready to put family first. So, we feel bad and angry about what happens. But, the fallout is largely glossed over with on-screen captions and some news footage. It all makes for a rather abrupt ending. I wish the director had devoted a little more time to that aspect of the story.