Blindspotting review

Remember the name Daveed Diggs, because if the Hollywood gods have any sense of justice, this guy is about to blow up in a major way. Fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway smash hit Hamilton are already familiar with Diggs (he played the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in that show), but in Blindspotting, the opening night movie of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, Diggs establishes himself as a talented multi-hyphenate who should be at the top of every casting director’s list for years to come.

And while Diggs is terrific in the film, it’s not only a good movie simply because he’s good in it. This is an ambitious film with a lot to say, and director Carlos Lopez Estrada pulls off an impressive high-wire act of balancing drama, humor, and suspense throughout. Put this one on your radar now, because you’re going to want to make sure you see this when it eventually comes to theaters.

Diggs broke out with his work in Hamilton, where he used his uniquely pitched voice to full effect in historical rap battles. In Blindspotting, which he co-wrote with his co-star Rafael Casal, he’s able to show off a much larger emotional range while still putting some of those lyrical skills to good use: his character Collin, a convicted felon trying to stay on the right side of the law during the last few days of his year-long probation, occasionally slips into spoken word freestyles to express his thoughts. (It might sound cheesy, but it works very well in context.) Collin and his best friend Miles (Casal), a ghetto-talking white boy obsessed with proving he’s not a hipster, work as movers in Oakland, California, which is a clever way for the film to illustrate one of its main talking points: gentrification. But that theme is just one small aspect of this movie, which is also an exploration of identity, a treatise on how your surroundings shape you, an investigation into the concept of perception, and a devastating portrait of racial trauma. Like I said…this film has a lot to say.

Early in the film, Collin witnesses a white cop gun down an unarmed black man in the streets, but rather than use that as a topical talking point and just moving on, the director makes it a haunting chorus that the film returns to again and again, with memories of that experience interrupting the protagonist’s life like a bomb falling from the sky. (The quick flashbacks are even presaged by bomb sound effects.) There’s a powerful dream sequence in which Collin’s voice is taken away from him and is replaced by bullets that spew from his mouth, and near the end of the story, the movie almost lost me because it begins openly stating its themes aloud in dialogue scenes. But Diggs is such a strong performer that his passion is able to keep the film afloat during those moments when it threatens to teeter off the rails, and the movie’s climactic showdown – unlike any I’ve ever seen, by the way – is a remarkable example of a filmmaker regaining control at the last possible second, like James Bond pulling a falling plane out of a nosedive that looked to spell certain doom.

So yes, this movie is full of some pretty heavy themes, but this is not one of those Sundance movies that’s designed to punish its audience in order to get its points across. Humor lightens the mood throughout, whether it’s the film’s laugh-out-loud opening scene, the ongoing banter between Collin and Miles, or a hilariously narrated flashback that reveals how Collin went to jail in the first place. There’s a buoyancy here that keeps you from drowning in the harsh realities; one second we’re seeing a hallucination brought on by a traumatic memory, and the next, we watch Miles fast-talking his way into selling a used boat using hilariously impenetrable Oakland lingo. “Everybody listens more when you make it sound pretty,” Miles says, a meta commentary on the way the movie itself often masks its tough subject matter with lyrical flourishes.

Among Estrada’s impressive tonal shifts are a few sequences of heart-stopping suspense laced with a stomach-sinking feeling of inevitability. I wouldn’t dare spoil any of those moments, but the film pulls them off incredibly well, ratcheting up the tension even though some of its characters spend a scene railing against suspense-filled movies. (“F*ck Alfred Hitchcock!” one yells defiantly.)

Sharp, stylish, and sincere, Blindspotting may hook you with its flashy wordplay and slick visuals, but this is a hilarious and vital movie of the moment that’s burning with empathy. Some may quibble about whether its reach exceeds its grasp in terms of accomplishing everything it has on its mind, but one thing is undeniable: this movie features an outstanding performance from soon-to-be-superstar Daveed Diggs. When we look back on his rise, Blindspotting will be a big turning point and an effective time capsule of what an emerging creative force looks like, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10

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