Dir: Carlos López Estrada. With: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones. 95 mins. Cert: 15
The title of this disarming wildcard indie – a word-of-mouth U.S. sleeper hit – refers to the way the eye can become so settled on one aspect of any given image that it fails to register others. The film, a jolting showcase for writer-stars Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, refuses us any such complacency. True, it first bounds up to us as goofball knockabout, doing for Oakland what Ice Cube’s Friday movies did for L.A., metabolising chewy racial issues into peppy, crowdpleasing gags. Yet without wrenching gear shifts, it gradually drives its characters onto darker, meaner streets. That initial, appealing looseness proves to be latent instability; by the finale, we hardly know where we’re headed, only that bad things seem likely to happen there. Still, try and take your electrified eyes off it. It’s practically 2018: The Movie.
Blindspotting’s core steeliness can, in fact, be glimpsed early on, as Diggs’ man-with-van Collin – out beyond his curfew, two days before his probation ends – witnesses a cop shoot a fleeing suspect in the back. Report the incident, and potentially put himself back behind bars? Where a declamatory film would have made that quandary the whole show, director Carlos López Estrada pushes on. There’s hair that needs straightening, receptionists to be wooed, work for Collin to do alongside irascible white pal Miles (Casal), their moving business allowing close-up views of Oakland’s gentrification. Yet Collin’s internal tensions can only be sublimated for so long; defying normal cinematic physics, the movie around him grows bristlier with every frame, as if reacting to world events in real time.
When that anger is finally released, it transforms Blindspotting as it may yet transform that world, throwing up bold images – not least a Million Man March of the dead – and a finale that owes as much to performance poetry as it does to knife-edge thrillers. That we stay this tumultuous course is down to the leads’ ability to claw back sympathy for characters succumbing to their own worst instincts, and López Estrada’s assured direction. There may have been no easy or comforting way to end it, nor perhaps to sell it, save with reassurances that there’s nothing else like it on our screens right now. Yet the film’s insidious crawl away from comedy into sweaty waking nightmare is arresting indeed – as, finally, is its insistence that some elements of American life remain far too serious to joke about.
Blindspotting opens in selected cinemas from today.