Updated: Jul 11, 2021
Collin is a black ex-con living on parole in a halfway house in Oakland, California. He lives every day conscious of the fact that the slightest misstep (or perceived misstep) could put him back in jail. His best friend is Miles, a white guy who constantly feels like he needs to prove to everyone that he belongs in his own neighborhood. Just being with him puts Collin’s freedom in jeopardy. They are the main characters in Blindspotting, an uncommonly powerful, insightful and surprisingly funny film chronicling Collin’s last few days on parole.
This is the kind of movie where a plot description is misleading because it is not really about its plot. It is about its characters. It is about its city. It is also about all of the Collin’s and Miles’ in all the cities like this one. It is as much about the world we live in as any piece of entertainment I have seen this year. The more specific a film is in its details, the more universal it can be. Blindspotting comments on some major racial and social issues that plague our lives while barely venturing out past the lives of its characters. It is an impressive feat that makes it endlessly thought-provoking without ever becoming preachy.
There is no way I could possibly discuss this film and not mention Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal who, besides starring as Collin and Miles respectively, also wrote and produced Blindspotting. Their desire and determination is present in every line of dialogue. Everything here is well developed: the camaraderie between the friends, Collin’s anxiety whenever he goes outside, Miles’ self-doubt about his place in his community and the role of the police in cities like Oakland. They even deliver some of the dialogue in verse, which I thought could be distracting, but comes off as totally natural. Amazingly, all of these ideas combine in a way that strengthens each one.
Even more incredible is the control of tone shown by Diggs, Casal and their director, Carlos López Estrada. You might not think humor would comfortably mix with such serious topics but, just as in life, it does. The jokes come from the personalities, so they never feel forced or out of place. Most importantly, they never undermine the drama. A funny scene immediately follows a sad or intense one and it enhances it instead of hurting it. After watching the trailer, I was surprised to see it being referred to as a comedy. Although I would not go quite that far, it is certainly funnier than I anticipated. It is a slice of life drama in which people are sometimes funny despite the hardships they face.
This is Carlos López Estrada’s feature directorial debut and he does a great job showcasing the material he was given. However, this is really Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal’s triumph. Diggs is best known as part of the original cast of Broadway’s “Hamilton,” but in the last two years he has begun to pop up in a lot of movies and television shows. For Casal, this is his first feature length film in any capacity.
Their screenplay is fantastic and, I am sure, will be getting most of the praise. But their performances should not be overlooked. Diggs is charming and sympathetic as a man who wants you to see him for who he is, not who you think he is when you look at him. Casal, meanwhile, is all energy and insecurities. His Miles wants you to respect him for what you see when you look at him, instead of making assumptions because of his race. They act as foils for each other, in addition to being inseparable best friends.
It is difficult, in any form of entertainment, to create something that deals honestly with significant issues while also being entertaining. Usually, one of those pulls away from the other. Blindspotting (92 minutes, without the end credits) does both successfully, never trivializing the questions it raises by pretending they have easy answers. It is a movie very much of our time with a climactic scene as affecting and brilliant as any in recent memory. This is one not to be missed.
5 out of 5
Daveed Diggs as Collin
Rafael Casal as Miles
Janina Gavankar as Val
Jasmine Cephas Jones as Ashley
Ethan Embry as Officer Molina
Directed by Carlos López Estrada
Written by Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs