Blindspotting Apr 18, 2019 19:49:58 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Apr 18, 2019 19:49:58 GMT -5
Directed by: Carlos López Estrada
Directed by: Carlos López Estrada
Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal in Blindspotting.
Carlos López Estrada's Blindspotting opens with Collin Hoskins (Daveed Diggs), a twentysomething black male, getting the book thrown at him by the judge. The judge orders him to a lengthy probation sentence, but the words he speaks just find themselves drowned out in a sea of Collin's own personal thoughts. "You are a convicted felon, Mr. Hoskins," the judge eventually tells him, which snaps him back to reality. "You are now that until proven otherwise. Prove otherwise at all times."
This opening sets the tone for Blindspotting, a beautifully layered, messy, but commendably complicated look at racial dynamics in the rapidly changing landscape of Oakland, California. It's one of three films of late to uniquely posit Oakland as a transformative and transforming community. First, there was Black Panther, where the popular city was juxtaposed against the wondrous land of Wakanda, and then there was Sorry to Bother You, which took Oakland and just about everything else and subverted it with intrigue. By comparison, Blindspotting's treatment of Oakland is straight-forward and raw in its realism, yet it takes a magnifying glass to the rapidly changing culture and landscape of such a vibrant area.
Following Collin's sentence, the film jumps ahead 11 months and 27 days, allowing us to focus on the final 72 hours of Collin's probation. He spends his days walking a tight-rope of not doing anything wrong and aggressively proving to society that he is not doing anything wrong. This proves to be a bit difficult, as his best friend is Miles (Rafael Casal), an overcompensating white man with a gold grill, tattoos, and a knack for seeking out trouble. Our first moment seeing Collin and Miles together is when the two are with an acquaintance at a local burger joint, which has just reworked their menu to include vegan-umami, much to the dismay of Miles.
Collin must be home by 11:00pm, under the strict guidelines of his halfway house, but he gets stopped by a red light one night where he witnesses a black man get shot four times by an Oakland police officer (Ethan Embry). Collin doesn't want to involve himself with police, given he's mere hours away from being "free," but the event weighs on his mind. In the meantime, however, Collin and Miles work as movers, but unlike most people their age, they're more concerned with trying to grasp the identity of their hometown as opposed to their own identities. What was once a gritty, fight-or-flight area has now become saturated with plucky hipsters, tech companies, and cornerstores that specialize in $10 green juices as well as Black & Milds. While Collin tries to walk the straight-and-narrow, in addition to attempting to make amends with his ex-girlfriend/coworker Val (Janina Gavankar), Miles has a young wife (Jasmine Cephas Jones) and son, whom he tries to keep happy.
Lifelong friends Daveed Diggs, who made a name for himself playing Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton, and Rafael Casal make clear they've had something resembling an inseparable bond going for quite sometime just by the way the two screenwriters give life to their characters. Collin and Miles' chemistry throughout the film is both brotherly and bravely confrontational: the kind of special friendship you have with a select group of people you truly care about, so much so that you can tell them how you truly feel — even about them. Their banter reminded me greatly of Dante and Randal in Clerks. It's a friendship you doubt would brew if it tried to form between the characters as they are today, but one that remains in-tact because of all they've seen and experienced together. Erasing one person from the other's life would leave them empty and maybe vulnerable.
Diggs and Casal make Blindspotting a thoroughly tense experience. There's a reason to be on the edge of your seat at all times, as time is always of the essence and potential danger can lurk around the corner. For one, Collin is almost off probation. He's still nervous everywhere he goes, though you'd assume he has no reason to be. Therein lies the film's examination of life as a black male. Whenever the camera spends a great deal of time on Collin exclusively, either walking down the street or jogging in a cemetery, there's tension or some sort of unspoken fear. Estrada communicates the notion that Collin is either being monitored or closely watched when he's out by himself, or that Collin himself feels that he's in harm's way. This tension spills over into the larger film. It can be as overarching as the fact that we follow Collin on the last couple days of his probation or as minute as the way a stranger recounts the vicious fight that landed him in a halfway house, which makes for a phenomenal five minute flashback.
Casal's Miles is a pistol. He's a hyper-aggressive rabble-rouser, whose loud personality is unleashed as if restrained only by a hair trigger. In retaliation to a community to which he no longer feels he belongs, Miles doubles down his own perceived alienation by donning a gangsta persona, and the privilege of being able to act like one in public without fear of serious repercussions. Collin has to overcompensate for the fact that he is doing nothing wrong by constantly self-examining the optics of the way he looks and acts. Miles happily picks fights, fires his gun in the air, and even dares leave his weapon unattended in his house, which, at one point, leads to a jolting couple of seconds. This is what has been the unspoken friction in their friendship for many years.
Like many great pictures, Blindspotting boasts a lot of ideas: police brutality, white privilege, toxic masculinity, and of course, the titular term, which is explained so perfectly by one of the film's characters that I won't bother paraphrasing it. Similarly to present day Oakland, the themes come together like a salad bowl, creating vignettes within the film that deal with one particular idea, yet often combine and cross into tangled threads for you to untie. However, like seasoned writers, Diggs and Casal do well at injecting humor into the story. Regarding the aforementioned flashback, there is a hilarious device involving a bystander poorly impersonate the voices of the people, such as Collin and Miles, involved in the confrontation that livens up what could've been another routine cutaway. The way Miles gets under Collin's skin is sometimes quite funny, and Diggs' deadpan delivery of some of his dialog is rightfully hilarious given we know there is passion and an assured attitude one need not have to dig beneath the surface of him to unearth.
Estrada could just strap in and try to keep up with these two busy characters and the complex neighborhood and structures around them, but he commands the action. Him and cinematographer Robby Baumgartner paint an Oakland that pulsates with life and culture. You simply cannot take your eyes off of the way the two make graffiti germane to advertising, juxtapose fancy infrastructure to crumbling buildings, and profile the most jarring contrast of all, blacks and whites of different socioeconomic statuses, let alone cultural backgrounds, trying to coexist. Blindspotting is a firecracker of entertainment that inevitably leads to uneasy contemplation, not unlike Get Out. It's so fiery and in-the-moment and simultaneously another exhilarating picture about race that grabs you by the throat, all while unleashing a storm of new talent on the screen and subtext to chew on for years to come.
Starring: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones, and Ethan Embry. Directed by: Carlos López Estrada.