Director: Carlos López Estrada
Screenplay: Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs
Starring: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Ethan Embry, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Wayne Knight
Runtime: 95 Minutes
The title of Carlos López Estrada’s directorial debut Blindspotting is tantalizing yet unambiguous. A summary of sights often ignored or turned a blind eye to, as well as a description of one of the film’s most pivotal scenes. But even if that sentiment feels a little less incendiary in the current sociopolitical climate given its sad prevalence and domination over US media, and given the fact that it was written and refined over a decade by stars Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs, it is none the less still provocative feels as tragically relevant as ever.
The story follows Diggs’ parolee Collin Hoskins, with three days left on his sentence, only to have him witness a police shooting of a black man. What spirals out from that isn’t so much an escalation as it is an unfurling of Collin’s mental state, as well as the threatened lifelong friendship he has formed with Rafael Casal’s Miles.
Estrada builds the film up with creative headspace visuals. Vividly realized nightmare sequences of deep neon red and blue, and sharply cut apparitions of chains, cries, bullets and silence. Punctuation many scenes are the deep, long stares into Collin’s eyes that evoke the same horror of a witness’s disbelief as in Jaws.
It’s a presentation of the Berkeley, California area that is filtered through elements of heightened reality, with echoes of Donald Glover’s surreal comedy-drama Atlanta through the cinematography and its lucid rendering of gun violence, racial profiling, police brutality and gentrification amongst African American boroughs
Much like that series, it’s also a film brimming with character and one that is often very funny when relying on the individual scenes to carry it through to the next major sequence. Which makes the gut churns of reality, especially the scenes involving Mile’s son Sean, much more sickening to observe. There’s an issue with the ending that might feel a little too neat and contrived for its own good, but it allows Digg’s to deliver and phenomenal monologue that illustrates the pure burning poetry of rap to a stunning degree.
The Hamilton star is humble yet harrowing in the role, with a calmness only barely coating over his anxieties and panics at the situations he’s placed in. He’s downplaying the execution, but he kind of has to in order for the contrast to be so great with Miles and his senseless coopting of black culture as a part of his own heritage, portrayed with a heated performance from Casal.
Diggs and Casal share amazing chemistry together, and prove as collaborative a force on screen as they are as writing partners. It’s only a pity that it’s not shared as strongly with standby love interest Val (Janina Gavankar).
Blindspotting is explosive and vibrant, carrying through its ideas with blistering lyrical power that allows it to stand out at a time where this topic of conversation has rarely felt as loudly acknowledged.