SXSW 2018 Film Review: Blindspotting

It’s often said that out of harsh times some of the best art is created. The way and shape of things causing people to look creatively inward and really tap into what they want to express can make for art thats universal and compelling and inspiring; a cultural moment addressing things that need addressing. For me, Blindspotting is all these things and so much more. It tells a story that is at times funny, haunting and tremendously necessary.

It’s three days until he’s off parole and Collin (Daveed Diggs) is doing everything in his power to ensure he doesn’t mess That up. Even the slightest infraction could revoke his parole and land him in jail. This proves to be an astonishingly complex feat as his best friend Miles (Rafael Casal) is the epitome of bad decision making. While trying to ensure he arrives back to his halfway home before curfew, Collin witnesses an unarmed black man get gunned down while running from the police. The officer rushes Collin off and thus begins an internal conflict that rages within Collin the rest of the film as he contemplates what he witnessed, weighs his inaction and the toll it takes on his psyche and eventually escalating into an examination of his own identity in the world.

Now, all of that sounds incredibly heavy. Rightfully so, as the film goes to some truly tough emotional places. Collin is haunted by his inaction but also by what it means to be a young black man in today’s America. What is all the good worth when society still places assumptions based on skin color or a haircut? Can a lifetime of being a mostly good person be shrouded by one instance of crossing the line? How can one find their own identity in a world that’s constantly choosing that identity for you? Diggs’ performance as Collin lends to some beautiful and engaging ruminations on these questions that there really aren’t concrete answers for and that’s honestly ok. Some questions don’t have answers but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be asked and addressed and be used to begin the conversation.

The heavy is far from all that’s on display, though. Collin and Miles, aside from being best friends since childhood, are also coworkers for a local moving company and their interactions with each other and the city around them builds such a rich relationship between the two that demands the viewers ecstatic attention. Diggs and Casal, real life best friends, wrote the screenplay together and that closeness to the project reflects on the screen. Every laugh and every tear feels immediately personal and twice as affecting as it would be in the hands of outsiders. The duo have a vernacular with each other that often delves into organic, casual rhyme that could easily be corny but feels natural and lays a true foundation for the film’s pivotal climax where the dialogue goes full on spoken word while bringing every ounce of emotional devastation the film has been building to.

This is the feature length film debut for director Carlos López Estrada and does an incredible job of showing off Estrada’s varied skill-set consisting of providing the path for the narrative but then also understanding when to let the film speak for itself. The film effortlessly weaves from organic comedic moments to devastating emotional beats and Estrada guides the film to the hearts of both ensuring that no element outweighs the other. Estrada is also able to show of some impressive visual flourishes that serve to enrich the experience in creative ways. Estrada also make the incredibly smart move of making Oakland itself a living, breathing character. As we follow Collin and Miles through their days and nights montages of Oakland flash for the viewer painting a picture of a town that’s real and has it’s own heartbeat. Oakland is the source of much importance when either lead is attempting to truly define who they are, for better or worse.

Blindspotting navigates that iffy realm of being hilarious and serious in equal measure and comes out as something transcendent of both. It’s rare to find a story that digs so deep into self-examination and self-preservation that also allows for organic moments of levity and truly honest moments. Diggs is tremendous and his performance goes to deep, affecting places and manages to make for an incredibly memorable experience. Director Estrada makes a stellar debut showcasing a natural sense of storytelling and the ability to use visuals to make an for an even more well rounded and impassioned tale. This film isn’t just primed to be a darling of SXSW but will certainly find itself atop many of the year end “best of” lists. Blindspotting is honest, crucial and essential viewing.

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Matt Hardeman has been writing about Film professionally since 2011 and unprofessionally loving Film since 1984. He adores films that can scare him or make him cry and is in a life long quest for those that do both. He currently resides in Austin, TX with his tuxedo cat Sadie where they both get fatter every day.