Blindspotting | Review
Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal have said that ninety per cent of their first draft for Blindspotting made it to the final film. That means that the vast majority of the racial and social inequality attacked in this hugely topical production was penned in from the start. Diggs and Casal wrote Blindspotting – which is a film primarily concerned with nature of moving on – over a decade ago.
The film opens with a split-screen montage of life in Oakland, third largest city in the San Francisco Bay area, to the strains of Verdi’s “libiamo ne’ lieti calici” and it’s delightful. If Blindspotting was initially conceived as a vehicle to pay tribute to its writers’ homestead, it absolutely works. Heartfelt honesty is delivered in spades and a beautifully natural, local dialogic rhythm reverberates throughout. Cinematographer Robby Baumgartner does beautiful work in enhancing the surreal luminescence of urban life – reminiscent of Sean Baker’s work on the opposite coast – whilst the script itself keeps things fantastically grounded.
A tight focus holds the film’s plot largely within the space of just four days, effectually allowing first-time director Carlos López Estrada to sharpen his lens on the beats of normal life. The story follows Collin Hodgkins (Diggs) in his final stretch on probation, just over a year on from committing a particularly regrettable crime. It’s a while before we learn what this was – ‘How are we to know hipsters are so flammable?!’ – but its eventual unveiling is adroitly delivered; funny, painful and perfectly representative of Blindspotting’s brilliance. This is a film that masterfully navigates a passage through comedy and tragedy and in such a way that neither ever feels unduly heightened. In one scene a gun can be the source of incompetent slapstick, whilst in the next it is a socially skewing symbol of all that is wrong with a country that permits universal ownership of firearms.
Said gun is just one of many obstacles standing between Collin and liberation. Indeed, all he has to do is avoid police attention: ‘You are a convicted felon, Mr. Hoskins. You are now that until proven otherwise. Prove otherwise at all times’. This simple task is complicated, however, by his being witness to the disquieting injustice of a white police officer shooting a black man in cold blood, with just three days to go on his probation. Does he stay quiet? Would anybody listen if he were to speak up? In the context of the stateside racial aggression from which the event is drawn, the answers must be a yes – ‘Hello, I’d like to report a murder. It’s you.’ – and then sorrowful no.
What’s clever here is that, whereas some films might have focussed entirely on the woes of Collin’s life and society, Diggs and Casal portray such violence as just one part of a life, which must go on. Moments of pathos and smart satire are well integrated into day-to-day dramatic ebbs and flows, with the conceit that Collin and best friend Miles (Casal) are drivers for a moving company allowing for observations to cover the entire panoramic landscape of Oakland. No branch of the social oak is spared a comic dig and there’s a cracking scene in which Miles is served a ‘vegan patty’ by a local hamburger joint because he failed to specify he wanted meat.
Diggs and Casal are exceptional here, both in front of and behind the camera, delivering performances and dialogue that were clearly driven by personal impetus. Whilst their characters’ restrained tensions are tangible throughout, Collin’s rap-based climax oozes passion and demonstrates a marvellous talent for poetic wordplay. As a comedy and drama, the film is cinematic perfection; but as a political statement, the film stands alongside Jordan Peele’s Get Out in its contemporary pertinence.
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