Early on January 1, 2009, 22-year-old Oscar Grant was shot in cold blood by a police officer at the Fruitvale Bart station in Oakland. This brutality was captured by several cell phones and went on to galvanize the Bay Area’s movement against urban violence. Rookie feature director Ryan Coogler’s true story “Fruitvale,” which was backed by Sundance workshops and San Francisco Film Society filmmaker grants, couldn’t be more timely, post-Newtown. Weinstein Co. acquired U.S. rights for $2.5 million this week after its Sundance debut.
Coogler follows Grant (Michael B. Jordan of “The Wire” and “Friday Night Lights”) on New Year’s Eve in the hours before the shooting. We see a warm-hearted, loving father with a troubled past, moving blindly toward his inevitable and heartbreaking demise.
With understated and moving performances by Jordan and Octavia Spencer as Grant’s mother, a film that could have hit the audience over the head with its message, instead draws us into the characters and their community, heightening the tragedy of the film’s climax. Coogler grew up in the Bay Area and it’s clear that the movie is enriched by his passion and understanding for the city’s struggles. (Here’s Indiewire’s Coogler interview.)
Prepare for a four-hankie movie. I didn’t just cry during the film, I ugly cried (think Clare Danes), and judging by the sobs heard throughout the Monday afternoon press screening at the Holiday, I wasn’t alone.