It does not end there, however. It ends in a hospital, and anyone who knows the true story "Fruitvale Station" is based on also knows that one of those black men, Oscar Grant III, is killed that New Year's Eve by a cop.
The pall that knowledge casts over the 90-minute film adds to the tension and makes the foreshadowing less than sophisticated although real enough. Ryan Coogler, the film's writer and director, did a commendable job of turning the truth of Oscar Grant's life into the art of this tight, tense film. Coogler starts in 2008 but flashes back several times to give a fuller sense of Grant's life before his death at 22. He spends New Year's Eve 2007 resolving to be a better man. He has lied to his Hispanic girlfriend about losing his job, and he gets pressured by his sister to lend her money for rent. He promises his mother that he will buy fish for her birthday dinner that night and tells her not to worry about repaying him -- not on her birthday. He takes his daughter, called T, short for Tatiana, to day care and drops his wife at her job and then kind of cruises the streets of San Francisco.
When he flashes back to his time in the penitentiary, when his own mother said she was not coming back to visit, he renews his commitment to straighten up and fly right, to turn 2008 into a year of new beginnings. At his mom's birthday party, she urges him and his girlfriend to take the train into town for the fireworks at midnight, and he does. He never goes home again.
As Grant, Michael B. Jordan, known for his work on "The Wire" and on "Friday Night Lights," owns this role and blasts through it with compassion and commitment. Melonie Diaz, who has played a variety of bit parts on television, does an excellent job as Soprhina, Grant's girlfriend, who loves him but sees right through him -- just as his mother does. His mother is played by Octavia Spencer; she deserves a second Oscar, given that this part requires more acting than her role in "The Help." Ahna O'Reilly, who was also in "The Help," plays the part of a bystander credibly.
Coogler's direction of this cast and telling of this story are impressive. He is especially effective in crowd scenes, whether in a one-butt kitchen or in a stuffed subway car, where all passengers, stuck on the rails, party at midnight. "Fruitvale Station" is thoroughly commendable. The story is hard to watch, but the filming is stunning.