By Brian Tallerico / Posted on April 15, 2018

Making a debut at Sundance is an ambitious film by Carlos López Estrada’s “Blindspotting,” a movie that has already been criticized for some tonal jumps in the final act. Sure, the film bites off a bit more than it can chew, but I’ll go to bat for a creative team that tries something this ambitious and culturally resonant instead of so much of the lazy indie filmmaking we so often see. “Blindspotting” is a raw, abrasive call for an adjustment in the way we see each other. It is so much a film of its moment that there were also opening night criticisms arguing it was too on the nose for where we are in 2018. With the amount of tone-deaf cinema being released every year, give me a film that you could call tooculturally relevant every single time.

The title refers to the Rubin Vase illusion. You’ve all likely seen it—it’s that one where an image either looks like two faces or a vase depending on how you first perceive it. “Blindspotting” is about not just perception but how prejudice informs it. Sure, if you see the vase, I can tell you to see the faces, and you will. But why did you see the vase the first time? The question to ask is not how we adjust our perception based on new information but what informs that initial impression in the first place.

Co-written by its stars, “Blindspotting” is the story of Collin (Daveed Diggs) and Miles (Rafael Casal), a pair of fast-talking movers in an increasingly-gentrifying Oakland. Collin has been on probation for a year, and he has three days left to play by the rules or risk going back to jail. That means a curfew and staying away from anything remotely criminal. Of course, that’s going to prove difficult. You see, Miles is a bit of a, shall we say, troublemaker. He’s been Collin’s best friend since childhood, but he’s arguably not the best influence on him, and Diggs and Casal are careful to show how the races of these two gentlemen impact not only their relationship but how the rest of the world sees them.

Collin is the soft-spoken, quieter half of the duo; Miles is the fast-talking, grill-wearing, hipster-hating, borderline psychopath. In the film’s hilarious opening scene, Miles buys a gun from a guy who reveals he now has to go pick someone up via Uber, and that gun creates an instant threat. Will Collin get caught with it? Will Miles do something stupid? And then Collin sees something horrific when he’s headed back to his halfway house—he watches a cop (Ethan Embry) shoot a fleeing, unarmed black man. The cop sees him. And Collin drives off, but he’s haunted.

“Blindspotting” was once conceived as a spoken rhyme piece, and you can still feel those rhythms in it in both Miles’ constant hustling flow and a climactic scene from Diggs, who is simply fantastic here. He captures multiple layers of a man literally trapped by a system that tells him where to be and even who to be. The dialogue often hums and flies so fast that you miss its references, some of which are admittedly in the “mouthpiece” category of screenwriting, but the whole film has such a heightened sense of reality that it just becomes a part of its rhyme. Miles says at one point, “Everybody listen more when you make it sound pretty,” and that’s definitely key to the filmmaking approach in “Blindspotting.” When the film arrives at some seriously dark places, especially in the final act, it’s not as successful, but the passion never wanes. It’s a love letter to Oakland that also very deftly understands the racial differences in that city and around the world. It’s about images and shit you can’t escape. You may see the vase the second time, but you see the faces the first. And you should see this movie.


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