In Oakland, Collin ('Hamilton's' Daveed Diggs), a black man, is walking through the minefield that is his last three days of probation. His best friend, white-Latino Miles (two-time National Slam Poetry Champion Rafael Casal), is a hair trigger gun nut. When Collin witnesses a white policeman shoot an unarmed black man, his and Miles' side-by-side yet utterly different realities come to the fore in "Blindspotting."
Laura's Review: B+
Written by its stars, buddies since high school, "Blindspotting" is a multi-faceted tale of two best friends, one who's suffered the effects of racism, the other embracing the black neighborhood he grew up in with the trappings of a rapper but the benefits of white skin. There's a touch of "Mean Streets'" Charlie and Johnny Boy to these two, Collin always alert to surroundings Miles can not only be oblivious to, but apt to flick a lit match on. The duo incorporate rap and rhyming word into their screenplay both naturally and fantastically and have made their characters movers to explore the impact of Oakland's gentrification ('Money in my pocket, we get paid just for moving stuff'). In fact, debuting feature director Carlos López Estrada uses the movie's opening credits to underline this very thing, a split screen offering the two sides of Oakland - new townhouses and old bungalows, deeply ingrained black culture and new white hipsterism, wealth and poverty. Miles spits out the burger he's just bought at the Kwik Way relaunch, disgusted to learn it's vegan while Collin admires their new wedge fries. We find the two immediately at odds when Miles jumps in a friend's purple donk to buy a gun. Collin is apoplectic, six guns, some loaded, stashed everywhere. Miles peels off bills before his buddy takes off, responding to an Uber call. On his way back to the half-way house with minutes to spare for his 11 p.m. curfew, Collin gets stuck at a long red light. Just as it turns green, a desperate looking black man runs right in front of him. A cop runs up to Collin's passenger side, pulls out a gun and fires several times at the back of the running figure. They exchange a long look, then Collin is told to move on by backup officers. The next morning, Collin goes through his morning ritual, arriving at the home of Miles and his black wife Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones, "Mistress America"). Ashley wants more money to send their son Sean (Ziggy Baitinger), roughhousing with Collin, to a private school. Miles begins to hustle found items picked up during their work days. He also disses Val (Janina Gavankar), the moving company's administrator and Collin's ex. The feeling is mutual and we find out why when Collin is recognized by a witness to his crime, a horrific incident started with a scorpion bowl, ignited by gentrification and inflamed by Miles. As Collin tries to keep his head down, haunted by the murder of Randall Marshall (Travis Parker), Miles' sense of lost identity escalates, culminating in two horrific incidents his friend refuses to back him on. But it isn't until Collin has safely navigated his probation that he faces his own biggest fear, Officer Molina (Ethan Embry, "The Devil's Candy"), rapping his anger in a tension filled scene. Estrada uses his music video experience for surreal scenes of nightmares, waking and not. He keeps the film visually engaging with split screens and artful transitions while his stars provide humor, heart and drama. The film is sprinkled with the type of small moments and details that elevate, a trenchant tee shirt here, an old wedding photo there, a faulty house alarm signaling impending danger. Oakland is as much a star as its denizens, traced from its namesake roots through its history of Black Power to its current influx of cash. Diggs and Casal work wonderfully together, united by personal history yet separated by societal externals. As the man who's already served time, Diggs works to keep a cap on his fury while Casal freestyles his, understanding dawning only after witnessing Collin almost lose his battle. "Blindspotting," a term concocted by Val's psychology student, marks a major debut. It colors outside the lines. Grade: