Saturday, 6 October 2018

BLINDSPOTTING review

With just three days left on his probation, Collin (Daveed Diggs) sees a young black man gunned down in the street by a police officer (Ethan Embry). Knowing that speaking up about what he saw may jeopardise his imminent freedom, Collin turns to his friend Miles (Rafael Casal) to be his council and to keep him out of trouble. Unfortunately for Collin, the volatile Miles, frustrated by their increasingly gentrified neighbourhood and the injustices he sees around him, is a powder keg ready to go off at any moment.

Best known for his role in the original production of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway phenomenon Hamilton, over the last few years Daveed Diggs has been building a list of TV credits (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Black-ish, the upcoming Snowpiercer TV series) and onto the big screen with this, written and produced by himself and co-star Rafael Casal and taking place entirely in his native Oakland, his most personal role to date. A commentary on the gentrification that is happening in many predominantly black neighbourhoods, Collin and Miles work for "Commander Moving", literally making a living by helping to take residents out of the area to make way for new hipsters to move in.

Whereas Collin is willing to bite his tongue and just wants to see out the time remaining on his probation (his jail time the result of a violent attack he was a part of when working as a doorman), Miles, a white man who was also born and raised in the area, is more vocally against the encroaching threat and feels something needs to be done to claim back the area they call home and stop their culture from being appropriated. This is most obvious in the scene where Miles and Collin end up at a hipster party where the new owner of the house is now sporting the same neck tattoo as Miles, leading to Miles violently lashing out when his credibility is called into question by a fellow Oakland resident.

Blindspotting has a number of funny moments coming from the relationship between Collin and Miles. It is a buddy comedy of sorts and feels like a throwback to other knockabout comedies like the Friday series (even Collin's hair has a 90s vibe to it, worn long and braided), particularly in the earlier scenes of Miles hustling his way around town selling old hair straighteners and sail boats, although its political concerns are more contemporary. In one of the most thought provoking scenes in the film, we see a heated interaction between Collin and Miles about what racially charged words the white Miles is allowed to use in reference to Collin, a black man. It's an interesting and well played argument that Miles, uncomfortable using the N-word, still struggles to see why he can't say it, and understand that although they may be from the same neighbourhood, Collin's world is different to his. Miles, a danger to himself and others and stupid enough to have a gun on him, does not understand the privilege he as a white man has to act out and do stupid things without the same risk of police reprisal or serious jail time Collin would face. It's a great summation of the racial politics of the film that highlights the difference between them as seen by society, and crucially the police, and superbly acted by Diggs and Casal.

For the most part it works, and the slightly jarring feeling you get when Diggs starts to break into verse (making use of the skills he became known for in Hamilton) are gone by the film's emotional climax where he uses his powerful vocal delivery to confront the brutality that has been plaguing him for the film. As is to be expected for a story so focused on the relationship between Collin and Miles, the female characters are left largely in the background, which is a shame as there's some interesting dynamics that could have been better explored, particularly with Miles’s family life.
When viewed as their separate elements there's so much to admire about Blindspotting, but collectively these tonal shifts make the film an occasional uneven ride. Its success is largely dependent on the chemistry and friendship that Diggs and Casal have on screen together, and carries a message that goes much deeper than you'd expect.

Verdict
3.5/5

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