Michael B. Jordan, in a award-winning performance, plays Grant with such warmth, depth, personality, and realism that it feels like we are watching Grant's home videos. Melonie Diaz, who is stunning in her role as Grant's fiancé, Sophina, is a Latina girl who is truly in love with him. They have a young daughter, Tatiana, and between them they struggle to make ends meet, especially after Grant loses his job in a supermarket.
Grant had previously served time in prison for a drug offence, and is now trying to do everything right for his family. They still send Tatiana to day care which they can barely afford. Meanwhile, with no job on his horizon, Grant calls a chum who deals drugs, in the hopes he can score some extra cash, though he realizes this is a road he shouldn't travel down again.
Grant's mother, Wanda, played by Octavia Spencer, still dots on him, protects him, and treats him like a young boy, even though he has a family of his own. They're an all-around loving family, but things are a bit tense between Sophina and Grant over him losing his job. At his mother's birthday party on New Year's Eve, they forget their troubles and have a good time being together with all of the family. With plans to go into town later that evening to watch the fireworks, Wanda tells her son to take BART (the metro) into town instead of driving, as it would be safer and easier. However, this proves to be catastrophic, since Grant gets into an argument on the train with a fellow former inmate, causing a scuffle, with the police dragging Grant and his friends (all black men) off the train and onto the platform. They tell the police that everything is cool, but Grant, prone to being volatile, doesn't sit still when the officers tell him to. They pin him face down and he struggles, until one of the police officer's guns go off, shooting Oscar in the back. He dies the next day in the hospital.
It's hard to accept the ending of Fruitvale Station when you know it is a true story. A young man's life has been cut short due to one policeman's overreaction and carelessness of his weapon.
The actors make this film a personal experience for the viewer. Jordan is perfect as Oscar Grant; I couldn't imagine anyone else playing this role. He's embodies the spirit, and the struggles, of a young black man with a checkered past, trying to raise a family and proving to himself and his family that he can make it. Jordan most recently co-starred with Zac Effron in That Awkward Moment, showing a funny side. In Fruitvale Station, he shows the opposite side, and has won several awards for his performance.
Diaz is almost as good as his wife. Not well-known as an actress, this film will raise her profile immensely. Spencer, as Grant's mother, is the heart and soul of the film. It is excrutiating when she is told in the hospital that her son has died. Writer and director Ryan Coogler has crafted a gripping, dramatic, and one of the most powerful films of the year. This is the 26-year-old Coogler's first feature film, and what a debut it is.