Reel Reviews | Blindspotting (Sundance ’18)

by Tim Gordon (originally published on January 19, 2018)

With three days left until his probation expires, Colin (Daveed Diggs) must navigate the tricky streets of Oakland, as well as his loyalty and friendship with his volatile best friend, Miles (Rafael Casal) in the provocative buddy comedy, Blindspotting.

Facing the final stretch of his time on probation, Colin and his “O-Dog-esque” best friend, Miles are hanging out in late one night. Trying his hardest not to be in situations that may violate his parole, Miles innocently buys a gun setting in a motion several circumstances that will many mean dire consequences for his best friend. Later that night, on the way home, Colin witnesses a dirty cop (Ethan Embrey) shooting down an unarmed black male dead in the streets.

The following morning, Colin shares the events with Miles and his family, Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) and their adorable son Sean (Ziggy Baitinger). Miles is raising his son to be a little tough guy, which is cute on the surface but as a young black man growing up in the inner city of Oakland, it may a luxury that he can’t afford. Colin is also conflicted by his relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Val (Janina Gavankar), who also got him his job at the moving company that she also works as the company receptionist. He is caught in a constant on-going tug-of-war between the two over the incident that landed Colin on probation.

All of the interpersonal relationship creating an interesting dynamic that real-life best friends and co-screenwriters Diggs and Casal brilliantly utilize. Channeling Menace II Society’s primary relationship between Caine (Tyrin Turner) and O-Dog (Larenz Tate), Diggs and Casal provide just enough contrasts and similarities to keep us engaged with their adventures.

Despite some harrowing and heavy situations, the film has many humorous scenarios. Many of those come courtesy of Casal, whose unpredictability invigorates this personal story but also creates some of the strongest tension in the story. His gift of gab is also magical, including one sequence when he sells a basket of used flat-irons in a beauty salon while facing off against the salon’s proprietor Mama Liz (Tisha Campbell-Martin), resulting in one of the loudest laughs in the film.

Always looking to improve herself, Val is taking classes when she takes a rare opportunity to study with Colin. Memorizing study terms with her own slang, she explains to Colin the meaning of “blindspotting,” the phenomenon where two images exist in the same picture and your mind focuses on one while temporarily blinding your eye to the other. As Colin attempts to turn his life around, those closest to him view him in much the same way, focusing on his past, not seeing his future potential.

Daveed who won accolades for his co-starring role in the hit play Hamilton, as well as the recurring role on Black*ish, shines in this film. He displays range previously unseen in his past work. We feel the weight of not just his Blackness but the prism that he is viewed as an ex-con who is just one mistake from returning back to jail. His loyalty to Miles is slightly puzzling but soon he understands that Miles harbors an advantage that he can’t overcome – his White privilege which allows him to act ni**erish without suffering the consequences that he’s suffered – despite the fact he may be innocent in the eyes of those who harbor racist intent, Colin is still a big Black man.

Blindspotting is at it’s best when it explores the social issues that plague the African-American community, police harassment, gun violence and the deaths of scores of Black men. It is challenging when it probes the exploration of friendship and the choices we make that wall us in not allowing us to live our lives to the fullest. After struggling for a decade to get their film made Daveed and Casal haven’t missed their shot producing one of the most provocative stories at this year’s fest.

Grade: A