"BLINDSPOTTING" — 3 stars — Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Ethan Embry; R (strong language throughout, some brutal violence, sexual references and drug use); Broadway
There’s a sense of impending doom about “Blindspotting,” a unique, stylish and definitely R-rated drama from a pair of longtime friends that works in dramatic tone changes, guiding the audience towards a provocative finish.
Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada, and featuring the film’s writers in its starring roles, “Blindspotting” centers on a few days’ worth of time in inner-city Oakland, California, as a recently released convict is trying to transition back into normal life.
Collin (Daveed Diggs, a Tony Award-winner from the original "Hamilton" cast) is an African-American Oakland native at the tail end of a yearlong probation that followed a two-month stint in prison. We join him three days shy of the end of his term, living in a halfway house and spending his days working for a moving company with his best friend Miles (Rafael Casal).
Miles is a short-tempered Caucasian family man just this side of crazy, testing the patience of his wife Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) and their young son Sean (Ziggy Baitinger). He’s no fan of Val (Janina Gavankar), Collin’s ex-girlfriend who works the front desk of the moving company while studying for her psychology course.
Collin is desperately trying to follow the rules of his probation, which is no easy task while running with Miles. On the way home one night, he witnesses an Oakland police officer (Ethan Embry) shoot and kill a fleeing suspect (Travis Parker), but keeps his mouth shut since technically he was out past his curfew.
The event haunts Collin as he presses toward the end of his probation, working different assignments with Miles, trying to reconnect with Val and observing the growing hipster gentrification of his neighborhood. At every turn, Collin must watch his step and avoid any violation that could reset his probation period, and when we learn what got Collin in trouble in the first place, the film becomes even more substantive.
Estrada imbues Diggs and Casal’s script with a lavish sense of style that turns “Blindspotting” into a loving, warts-and-all portrait of inner-city Oakland, celebrating its architecture, culture and of its beloved sports franchises, which show up on hats and T-shirts throughout the film. The use of creative split-screen technique and rap-driven dialogue from Diggs and Casal almost distract you from locking in on the film’s plot, but Estrada includes enough foreshadowing to remind you that its resolution may not be pretty.
Although the film opens with a very comic scene, “Blindspotting’s” tone frequently veers into dark and serious territory as its characters wrestle with issues of race and class, and for the most part, Diggs and Casal approach these themes with insight and consideration.
Things get a little too preachy towards the film's end, where toning down the style and playing things straight might have been more effective. It’s also troubling that while most of the characters in the film are given multifaceted consideration, Collin’s fearful perspective of the police feels limited by comparison. But Estrada’s film stands as an extremely creative and memorable comment on a variety of contemporary issues, awash with poignant, thoughtful and sometimes terrifying moments.
Audiences should note, however, that “Blindspotting’s” content certainly earns its R rating. In addition to pervasive strong language, the film also contains scenes of violence and instances of sexual innuendo.
Given its stylish and thoughtful handling of sensitive issues, “Blindspotting” could prove to be one of the most memorable films you’ll see in the back half of 2018. It will be interesting to see what will come next from the people who made it.
"Blindspotting" is rated R for language throughout, some brutal violence, sexual references and drug use; running time: 95 minutes.