Collin (Daveed Diggs) is a convicted felon recently paroled with three days left on his probation. Blindspotting chronicles his final hours leading up to that momentous occasion when all the conditions imposed on his freedom will be removed, milking that conceit for all the inherent tension it’s worth. Because the audience sees everything through Collin’s eyes, we understand he’s not looking for trouble, but that doesn’t mean he won’t get entangled in it anyway, then sucked back into a less-than-equitable justice system.
As his skeptical ex-girlfriend is quick to point out, that’s most likely to happen through his childhood friend Miles, a grill-sporting white boy with a severe chip on his shoulder, especially when it comes to the tech hipsters he sees as ruining their hometown of Oakland. Rafael Casal nails his performance as a believably volatile scumbag who’s just friendly and entertaining enough to be kept around, though he’s at least partially responsible for Collin getting incarcerated in the first place.
The story behind his imprisonment is understandably a sore spot, but it gets related in one of the film’s funniest sequences, a Drunk History-style voiceover recap of the incident which earned Collin the nickname “Scorpion King.”
Though it stops short of being an outright comedy, Blindspotting is undoubtedly funny, finding plenty of time for sharp banter, get-rich-quick schemes, and Portlandia-style Left Coast cultural commentary as Collin and Miles drive between gigs as movers. This choice of profession and their hangout scenes go a long way to providing a sense of the Bay Area at this moment in its history, covering everything from health food trends and overdevelopment to souped-up Uber vehicles and disenchanted middle-aged artists (why, hello there Wayne Knight).
The day-in-the-life approach also makes it feel natural when Blindspotting starts tackling timely subject matter that isn’t so easily made light of, because all of it is still rooted in the characters and the pressures they face daily.
Most notably for Collin, that means the fear of police brutality, a worrisome possibility that comes through constantly in Diggs’ performance and director Carlos López Estrada’s tracking shots of the Oakland nightlife. Earlier in the film, Collin is trying to make his parole curfew when he’s held up by a red light and witnesses a white police officer fatally (predictably?) shoot a fleeing black suspect.
Unable to report it for obvious reasons, Collin struggles to cope with his trauma surrounding this incident, cleverly communicated through visual and auditory means like the ringing that overcomes his hearing when a cop car comes into view, an evocative dream sequence featuring the police officer’s unforgiving countenance, or the image of martyred young black men and women standing on headstones of the neighborhood cemetery.
Blindspotting proves adept at engaging this sort of expressive imagery and fourth-wall-testing touches without sacrificing its sense of realism, perhaps best exemplified by the freestyle raps Collin and to a lesser extent Miles engage in at several of the film’s key moments.
It turns out the man shot was a convicted felon, just like Collin. “Convicts don’t get protests,” observes Miles all-too-accurately in front of his biracial son, who’s already learning to be a “tough guy” and play with finger guns. Suddenly Collin seems aware of how the fear of state-sanctioned violence he carries with him always might be passed to the next generation, and how Miles’s selfish misbehavior and lack of consideration might put them both in harm’s way.
One of the highest compliments I can pay Blindspotting is that it’s an issue movie that works on both a macro and micro level, meaning the characters works as real people as well as archetypes for the sorts of shifts American culture is (or isn’t) going through right now, when fear and politics seem to underlie everything and could easily drive a wedge between old friends along racial lines.
Of course, there’s more than just issues contained in Blindspotting, a strong debut for both its director and the writing/starring duo of Diggs and Casal, who bring a naturalism to both their script and performances that makes the timely messaging more powerful and easy to digest. Much as Get Out used horror to convey the underlying fear felt at all times by black men in white America, Blindspotting excels doing something similar in the framework of a hangout film.
The whole thing builds to a climactic confrontation that might seem too convenient by some nitpickers’ standards but feels absolutely essential and even therapeutic from a narrative standpoint, giving two sides of an issue we’re all still trying to overcome the opportunity to finally see eye-to-eye. Blindspotting doesn’t suggest a solution can be found that easily, but it’s still refreshing as a wide-release film for wrestling with the questions and issues we all ought to be about now.
Link to soundtrack