Bold, electric, funny and intense, Blindspotting is the debut of the year. Lifelong friends Daveed Diggs (a Tony winner for Hamilton) and Rafael Casal co-write and co-star in a film that touches on everything from gentrification to police shootings and racial identity to criminal justice. It also has a lot of time for freestyle raps. In a way, it reminded me of Atlanta, even though the film is distinctly about Oakland.
Diggs plays Collin, who's three days away from finishing his year of probation. He spends his days moving richer folks around with his lifelong buddy Miles (Casal, making his film debut), who grew up on the poor side of town, but often gets dismissed as a poser. That night on his way home, he witnesses a cop (Ethan Embry) shoot and kill a man without any justification.
Violence is woven into the fabric of this story, but that doesn't mean there's not a lot of humor. The banter between Collin and Miles feels like the back-and-forth of two guys who have known each other for years. They pass their time on jobs by creating raps that are actually pretty strong. On top his court-imposed restrictions, Collin's hung up on his ex-girlfriend and co-worker (Janina Gavankar), trying to woo her back by helping her study and bringing her overpriced kale smoothies.
Blindspotting has a lot to say about the shifting economics of cities, especially when those cause families and communities to be uprooted. But it's not 100 percent critical, as one character comments, "I'll be damned if I move now that they actually got good food around here." And it also has plenty of thoughts on policing too, noting that much of Oakland P.D. doesn't even live in the communities they serve and protect, but rather come in from much more affluent suburbs.
The film finds its home in that juxtaposition. An Uber ride in a lowrider with monster truck tires is a prelude to a serious conversation about gun ownership. A party infested with hipsters working for tech companies serves as the catalyst for an extremely violent and tense night. Lesser films couldn't handle such shifts in tone without giving the audience whiplash. That these are writers, directors and actors making their feature debuts (save Diggs, who appeared in last year's tearjerker Wonder) is all the more impressive.
Blindspotting is a film with a lot to say and an interesting way of saying it. Many films might have ambitions for one or the other. While the film's finale teeters over into preachiness, it's built up its justification for it. There are still a lot of movies to come out this year, but my hunch is none will be like Blindspotting.