Sundance Review: BLINDSPOTTING Brings A Light Touch To A Dark Subject

This is definitely one to watch out for.

There’s something special about Blindspotting. Carlos López Estrada’s debut is a tricky beast, a film that confronts hard topics but does so with a light touch that at first makes you feel like something is disserviced by its approach. After a little bit of time, the film has grown on me a great deal.

Blindspotting revolves around Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs as Collin, a well-meaning ex-con who has three days left on his probation. He’s done everything possible to keep out of trouble. He stays at his halfway house and has a steady job. Both during and after work, he hangs with his childhood friend Miles (played extraordinarily well by relative newcomer Rafael Casal). Collin is a good man. The crime that got him in this jam is lax enough that we learn of it in a comedic flashback. All he has to do it make it three days to freedom.

But of course it’s not going to be easy. The film begins with Miles purchasing a gun while hanging out with Collin, a decision sure to have consequences later. And riding home on the first of his three last nights on probation, Collin witnesses a cop (Ethan Embry, in an almost totally silent role) shoot a fleeing black suspect, an incident that leads to nightmares and a tension that rises within Collin throughout the film.

The thing is, Blindspotting sets all this serious stuff up but operates for the most part as a comedy. There is a ton of wit on display here, and the charm between Collin and Miles goes a long way. Instead of striving for naturalism, Blindspotting exists in an elevated reality geared for comedy. What gets complicated is that same heightened reality is also applied to the drama.

Blindspotting’s biggest (and least subtle) theme involves the gentrification of Oakland, CA, where the old neighborhood and hard characters these guys grew up with are being replaced by hipsters and Whole Foods locations. Blindspotting utilizes a pretty broad characterization of this, but the details ring true and engender a ton of great comedy beats while serving both its main characters with a thematic catharsis that feel earned. We never believe Miles and Collin are as “hard” as the film avers, but the overall tone kind of negates this issue.

While I would mostly characterize the film as a comedy, Blindspotting does not fuck around when it’s time for things to get tense. There are moments that had me terrified on my first viewing, when I had no idea how things would turn out. It keeps feeling like it’s about to cross a line into heavy-handed misery but never does, though it makes you suffer on the way to that discovery, something I’ve come to really admire about the film. It’s special just as much for what it does as for what it chooses not to do.

This is a really interesting film, particularly for these times. It proves that a movie can fully confront all kinds of racial conundrums while still being fun at the same time. It also features performances that feel unexpected and exciting. The ultimate climax, which I won’t spoil here, is something I’ve been wrestling with all day and now feel is straight up brilliant. It’s not often you watch a film that grows with you throughout the day like this. I hope a ton of people see Blindspotting but also give it the time it deserves to gestate, because there is something very exciting going on here.