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"BLINDSPOTTING"
(2018) (Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: With just a few days left on his parole, a young felon must contend with potentially disastrous things as he tries to remain on the straight and narrow.
PLOT:
Collin (DAVEED DIGGS) is a felon convicted of beating up a man while working as a bar doorman. Now, with just a few days left on his one year of probation that's kept him confined to areas of Oakland where he grew up, he simply wants to lay low and remain on the straight and narrow until that time is up.

That's easier said than done, what with his best friend and coworker Miles (RAFAEL CASAL) being something of a short-tempered loose cannon, despite being the father of a young boy he's raising with Ashley (JASMINE CEPHAS JONES). Collin once had a girlfriend in Val (JANINA GAVANKAR) -- who assigns the daily jobs for him and Miles as movers -- but his violent outburst turned her off and now they're simply coworkers.

While on the way home just before his curfew, Collin unexpectedly ends up witnessing a white cop, Officer Molina (ETHAN EMBRY), shoot and kill a black man who was running away from him. Realizing reporting that would likely mean a world of trouble, Collin doesn't tell anyone except for Miles. As they go about their daily routines, Collin finds himself troubled by not having done or said anything, all as homegrown people like him contend with changes coming to the city.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
A few years ago at a guys' weekend at the beach, a bunch of us fifty-something guys went to a bayside restaurant with outdoor seating. We were just looking for an evening of drinks and camaraderie, and certainly weren't looking to draw the attention of anyone there, especially being old enough to theoretically be the parents of most of those around us.

What was most surprising -- and somewhat depressing -- was that all of those young people not only didn't give us a second look, I don't think they even saw us, as if we were wearing Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. It's almost as if we were just extra pieces of the furniture or decor, something in your visual field but that you don't really see and thus essentially look through.

Considering that I'm a white, middle-aged man who looks about as dangerous as your average clumsy puppy, I imagine that if the police were looking for some reported suspect they'd probably have a similar reaction. They might acknowledge a physical shape in front of them, but without me doing anything alarming or suspicious or making any sudden moves, I wouldn't be much different than a street pole or mailbox to them.

If I were a young black male, however, their reaction could be quite different. Now before you think I'm some cop-hating leftist, I have to point out that I have the utmost respect for police officers, have some as friends and a former cousin-in-law of mine was a state trooper. And I know despite having a mostly thankless and often quite dangerous job, the vast majority are upstanding people. But just like any other vocation, there are some bad apples in the bunch which has resulted in some horrible events that have drawn lots of media attention and public outcry.

Yes, some such shootings are the result of split-second decisions where police officers don't have the luxury of time or video of the incident from different angles being shown over and over again. Others, however, are outright criminal acts.

The latter certainly appears might be the case in "Blindspotting," a film that touches on that subject and other such matters of inner city life. Considering that subject matter and featuring a pivotal moment of a white cop shooting a fleeing black man in the back and killing him, this easily could have been a grim reminder of what life can be like there for young men of color, or just as easily could have been a preachy sermon about racial wrongs (something that occasionally bedevils Spike Lee's "BlackkKlansman").

While director Carlos López Estrada -- working from a script penned by the film's two stars, Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal -- incorporates some of that into his film, there's also humor and humanity infused throughout. All of which turns what could have been another standard cop drama about bad things that go down in the inner city into something remarkably different, fresh and creative.

When we first meet Collin (Diggs), he has just three days left on his probation for a past incident stemming from bad judgment and then a stint in jail. He lives in a probation house, has an 11 pm curfew, and holds down a job as a mover (forced to stay within set geographic boundaries dictated by his probation terms).

He's trying to keep his head low, fly under the radar, and remain on the straight and narrow for his final 72 hours. And he's trying to get back with his girlfriend and coworker (Janina Gavankar) who dumped him after the past violent outburst that landed him in prison.

But his best friend and coworker, Miles (Casal), is a white "gangsta" who's always seemingly looking for trouble, including getting Collin into a car with an Uber driver who's currently in possession of drugs and a bunch of weapons.

Collin manages to survive that, but on his way home and stopped at a traffic light, he witnesses a white cop (Ethan Embry) shoot down a black man. Being black himself and carrying the label of a felon on probation, he's scared to report that and instead only tells Miles who, with his girlfriend (Jasmine Cephas Jones), has already had to teach their young black son to put up his arms and yell "Don't shoot!" over and over again.

Again, all of that might sound heavy and depressing, and at times it is. But enough humor and creativity (including occasional moments of spoken word verse) have been infused into the proceedings that it all goes down quite easily and actually ends up as -- so far -- one of the best films of 2018. And the chemistry between the leads feels real and helps make the characters, flaws and all, sympathetic to one degree or another.

But it's the last few minutes -- where our protagonist has an eerie visual reminder of the victims of violence along with witnesses who've remained quiet about that, and then has an ultra-tense encounter with the shooter cop (where that spoken word verse is put to full use) -- where the film hits the viewer with the greatest amount of emotional and thematic impact.

Showcasing that people only see what they want to see rather than the entirety of what's in front of them (thus the film's title), "Blindspotting" might just open a lot of eyes about life in the inner city. It rates as a 7.5 out of 10.




Reviewed July 26, 2016 / Posted July 27, 2016


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