A new year is a time of reflection and starting over but December 31, 2008, would be the last day of 22-year old Oscar Grant’s life. Fruitvale Station, the debut film of writer/director Ryan Coogler examines that fateful final day in the life of the young man whose life was cut short when he was shot in the back by a police officer at the BART Fruitvale Station in the early morning hours of 2009.

In the aftermath of the incident, as in similar cases of an unarmed black man being shot by a police officer, Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) was both demonized and deified by the opposing sides. The strength and accomplishment of Fruitvale Station is that it doesn’t take either of those positions. Instead, it depicts Oscar as a three-dimensional and flawed young man with an uncertain future who wants to be a better person. The film doesn’t shy away from the fact that he has a prison record, sells marijuana, and hasn’t always been faithful to his girlfriend and mother of his child, Sophina (Melonie Diaz.) Oscar, who is fired for being late to work, also has a temper and we see it flare when he confronts his former boss about getting his job back.

But, like all human beings, Oscar has many sides. He’s a devoted and loving father to his four-year old daughter, aspires to be a good son to his mother (Octavia Spencer), and genuinely does love his girlfriend. Jordan, a standout since his days on The Wire delivers a performance that firmly establishes him as an A list actor. He naturally embodies Oscar and exposes the fear and doubt beneath his protective hard exterior as well as the playful, easygoing persona that he shared with friends and strangers alike.

What he and the filmmaker do so well is make you take a second look at a type that many in our society easily dismiss as no good or as lesser human beings than themselves because of where they grew up, the clothes they wear, and the color of their skin.

Despite the fact that we know the outcome of this story from the start, when the film arrives at the fatal confrontation that occurred at the Fruitvale Station that night it is no less powerful or disturbing. That is because the film’s recreation of what happened on that station platform clearly shows an unarmed man who has committed no crime being shot to death. It is a difficult and sad thing to watch–an incident that appears completely avoidable and yet seemingly inevitable.

It’s a reminder that a series of random events can instantly escalate beyond our control and indelibly change lives forever. By simply telling the story of the last day of Oscar Grant’s life the film also makes the point that there is a segment of our population whose lives are not valued.

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