Blindspotting (2018)

Directed by Carlos López Estrada

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Blindspotting is intrinsically tied to its setting (Oakland), like a true story thriller is to its own genre.  Such a film, like let’s say Zodiac, works in accordance with the expectations of its genre, whether to respect or subvert them.

With Blindspotting we never forget where we are and when we are.  The story, about two friends during the last three days one of them is on probation, concerns police brutality, racial tensions and gentrification.  It’s a story about the city, and through these two friends we get a sense of the people as a whole who give it meaning.  These are people with deep roots in the East Bay who are now forced to move out, and the film has as much to say about such problems as a movie like Barry Jenkins’ Medicine for Melancholy.

The two friends are Collin (Daveed Diggs) and Miles (Rafael Casal), best friends since childhood though certain events and impulses threaten to pull them apart.  Collin has three days left on probation, but his best bud is a bit of a wild card and early on reveals that he’s armed.  All Collin wants is to stay out of trouble, first for legal reasons, but when he witnesses a cop shoot a fleeing black man, his fear cuts to the core and later offers up one of the tensest scenes I’ve seen all year.

Witnessing the cop shooting is not the inciting incident in a plot-driven movie you might expect it to be.  Instead it just further dramatizes Collin’s fear while the rest of the story is more of a character study, specifically the relationship between Collin and Miles.

The film is both incredibly funny and dramatic.  Somewhere in between those two extremes the movie creates its own energy, similar to Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, though I’d say Blindspotting does a much better job of balancing those two tones.  Like that fellow 2018 Oakland-set film, this one deals with a certain degree of magical realism.

The effect is like watching spoken poetry play out in real time.  Blindspotting isn’t afraid to get creative to make its point, and though it may seem a bit heavy-handed, the importance of the message (and the devastating impact with which it’s executed) makes these dream and fantasy sequences quite striking.  It all builds to an emotional climax involving two people on opposite sides of a loaded gun in which one of them expresses himself through spoken word/rap.

My only complaint about Blindspotting is that it can be a little too broad when it tries to mock those behind the gentrification of the city.  The movie paints these characters as gluten free, avocado-loving, green juice-drinking hipsters from Portland, with money to burn and cultures to appropriate.  They are one note characters with no substance, and it’s not to say that I don’t agree with what the film has to say about gentrification and its consequences, but painting the antagonist in such a shallow way undercuts the movie’s own message.  By not treating the other side with any depth, it makes the movie’s message resonate a little less.

That being said, this kind of representation is surely familiar to black audiences who, for decades and even still today, have had to endure countless shallow, unfair representations onscreen.

Blindspotting, through all of this, is entertaining and riveting.  You can see the facade in certain moments, the artifice with which some of this is assembled, but for the most part it is inspired, electric, and it feels quite important, certainly as a sign of the times.

Up Next: The Predator (2018), Mars Attacks! (1996), Hotel Artemis (2018)

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