Blindspotting review: Refreshingly original take on the rites of passage story

The film’s densely layered screenplay, written by its two stars Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs, touches on contradictory themes

Geoffrey Macnab
Thursday 04 October 2018 17:36
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Carlos López Estrada’s tells the story of an ex-con in a gritty tones (Lionsgate)
Carlos López Estrada’s tells the story of an ex-con in a gritty tones (Lionsgate)

Dir: Carlos López Estrada; Starring: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar. Cert 15, 95 mins

Reportedly 10 years in the making, Blindspotting is a refreshingly original, gritty and stylised version of the typical rites-of-passage story. The film is set on the mean streets of Oakland and its main character is an ex-con on probation but the performances are very theatrical. (A couple of the actors were involved in the original Broadway production of Hamilton.)

Reflecting its director Carlos López Estrada’s background in pop promos, it is full of visual flourishes such as split-screen, long tracking shots and fantasy sequences.

The film’s densely layered screenplay, written by its two stars, Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs, touches on contradictory themes. One moment, Blindspotting seems like a carefree musical and the next it turns into a hardboiled story about street violence, police brutality, racism and the struggle to “go straight”. It is also often very funny.

Diggs stars as Colin, the former prisoner his last three days of probation. He has to stay out of trouble or he can still be thrown back in jail. He works as a removal man alongside his childhood friend, Miles (Rafael Casal), who is white but acts and talks like a black gang member.

Colin may be a rapper but he’s a dreamy and sensitive type. It is not revealed until relatively late on what led to him being sent to prison in the first place. The title refers to the famous trompe l’oeil effect in which the same image can be seen both as a vase and as the profiles of two faces. Colin and Miles both have surprising hidden sides and a capacity for violence that belies their joshing, easygoing manner.

Affluent, white “hipsters” are increasingly visible. The locals resent their presence and are also deeply suspicious of the trigger-happy cops.

Estrada isn’t afraid to change the storytelling tone from scene to scene. A whimsical interlude involving a young family suddenly turns very dark as a child somehow gets hold of a gun. Characters at a house party are chatting casually one moment and beating each other to a pulp on a sidewalk the next.

Diggs is laidback and likeable as the convicted felon, trying to get his life back on track. Casal has a manic quality, a mix of boyish charm, wit and near psychopathy, that evokes memories of a young Robert De Niro.

Blindspotting is released in UK cinemas 5 October

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