Niagara Gazette — “Fruitvale Station” and “The Conjuring” are as thematically different as night and day, but both movies are about fear and how that emotion works on the human psyche.
In “Fruitvale Station,” which is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year old black man shot in the back by a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer in Oakland, California, the most frightened person is Grant’s mother Wanda, a woman from a close-knit, religious family who understands the dangers that children face as they grow up in a community wracked by poverty and riddled with drugs. Her son is a two-time felon, who is slowly moving beyond his past mistakes. Oscar has a goal, which is to be a better person to the three most important people in his life: his mother, whose birthday falls on New Year's Eve, his girlfriend Sophina, and their beautiful four-year old daughter, Tatiana.
The passionate and powerful film begins on Dec. 31, 2008. Ryan Coogler, whose first feature this is, also wrote the screenplay, which highlights the encounters Oscar has with various family members, friends, and strangers on the last day of his life. Coogler is hugely successful at taking the young man beyond being another violent statistic in a city filled with violent statistics. By New Year’s Day, Oscar would be dead after an altercation on a rapid transit car leads to chaos on the Fruitvale Station platform. Up to then, the movie unreels as a series of well-constructed and revelatory vignettes that tell the audience things about a person’s life that don’t find their way into headlines.
At the BART station, director Coogler switches gears and reveals a stunning grasp of how to present real-time action generated by anger and mayhem, creating a supercharged atmosphere that rivets your attention. Cell phone videos captured the actual shooting of Grant when one of the transit officers pulled out his gun and shot him as he lay on his stomach on the tile. Coogler expertly places his camera in the middle of the melee. You cannot watch this sequence and not be affected by it. Rachel Morrison’s cinematography and Claudia Castello’s and Michael P. Shawver’s editing contribute strongly to the raw emotions and heated tension of the moment.