The parallels are unmistakable: An innocent young 22 year-old black man, Oscar Grant, a frightened Transit cop, a situation spiraling out of control, one gun, one bullet. The rest you know. Only this wasn't Florida. This deadly incident took place in 2009 on the Fruitvale BART Station in Oakland. And the new movie, "Fruitvale Station," staring Michael Jordan as real-life Oscar Grant, is a powerful examination of Clark's last day before his deadly appointment in Samarra.
Michael Jordan, as Oscar, turns in an extraordinarily nuanced performance, capturing perfectly this man-child struggling to get his life back on track, both saint and sinner. Supported by Melonie Diaz as his girlfriend and Octavia Spencer (from The Help) turning in another wonderful performance as his long-suffering mother, the movie moves in close (physically, with the camera keeping the viewer in intimate contact with the characters, close enough to read their faces, close enough to allow you to keep that connection of familiarity and recognition.) And it's the sheer normalness of the characters that becomes so moving. Just people doing the best they can, living their lives, trying to keep themselves and families upright. Until pointless tragedy strikes.
While this powerful film's ending feels a bit truncated --the suddenly black screen followed by a textual coda about the rest of the story -- transit cop claimed he thought he was reaching for his taser but grabbed his gun instead, served 11 months for the killing, the sad collision of "justice" and "law"-- it remains a very powerful, moving, beautifully acted and beautifully put together film.
And certainly a timely film, considering we're supposed to be engaged in a "racial dialogue." It's hard to imagine a more apt "racially dialogued" movie than this one. But films seen as "black" often have a hard time finding a large audience. And a serious, tragic "black movie" is even more of a hard sell. I went to the noon Sunday showing at the Underground Theatre, and there were only about 8 people there. I can hope more people take time to see this haunting, timely, serious film. But history shows that hope is likely to be folly. Given a choice between "Fruitvale Station", a "black film" and "Wolverine," a loud, slashing fantasy, I know which one will win out.