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Review: Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal tackle serious issues in uneven 'Blindspotting'

Courtesy of Lionsgate  


Daveed Diggs brings the raps fast and fierce in his new poetic drama “Blindspotting” marking the actors leap into leading man stardom, following his Tony award winning turn in the Broadway smash “Hamilton.” The film, which he shares writing credit with co-star Rafael Casal, tackles just about everything hogging up the airwaves on public television today; police brutality, black lives matters, gun violence, and racial profiling. They all sort-of blend into one musical set-piece after another, with Diggs dropping sick lyrics to counteract the more harsh set-pieces. Though not as powerful as it thinks it is, the rhythm that stems throughout the entire picture has a raw emotion at its core, and two equally powerful performances from Diggs and Casal.

Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada, which has many semi-autobiographical elements from Diggs and Casal’s screenplay, “Blindspotting” offers up a fair share of stunning moments in an otherwise routine look at the lives of two pals making an honest living on the streets of Oakland, and the two actors bring a slick chemistry playing Collins and Miles. For Collins (Digs) he’s got three days left on his probation from an incident levied from his previous job; he now works as a mover with childhood buddy Miles (Casal) as they converse about their daily struggles in between dropping freestyle raps.

From a character standpoint, Miles is the hotheaded one of the duo, even purchasing a handgun for no other reason than to have it, despite his attempts to maintain a stable family life with his girlfriend (Jasmine Cephas Jones) and young child, that never stops him from getting what’s his. Meanwhile, Collins has yet to make amends with his ex (Janina Gavankar) who books his routes through the moving company. Talk about awkward.

Unfortunately, the woman are mostly reverted to the wings in this movie, giving leeway for Collins and Miles to end up in one sticky situation after another. It’s harder for Collins, who after witnessing a burst of graphic violence early on, is forced to re-evaluate his path, living in fear that at any given second his life could be unjustly upended due to the color of his skin (in contrast to Miles who can basically do whatever he wants because he’s white). It’s an incident that lingers throughout the whole picture, and one that ties up in the final twenty minutes with a haunting lyrical crusade delivered by Diggs.

You can tell that “Blindspotting” wants to tackle race barriers, but the energy feels dialed down in certain instances. Rather than steer the message home from the start, “Blindspotting” uses manipulation tactics without fully reining in the material. I noticed about a dozen shots of split-screens, and tireless amounts of flashbacks that constantly stole the spotlight from the narrative. And one scene that randomly involves Miles getting into a scuffle, while attending a party in a rich neighborhood, doesn’t nearly leave the impact that it should. Don’t even get me started about the clumsy twist - near the end of the film - that almost derails any credibility the movie has.

Still, Estrada directs enough of these sequences with a sense of urgency (the film is only about 90 minutes) managing to keep all the flowing plot devices tightly compacted, despite a few of them slipping through the cracks. Ultimately, this movie belongs to Diggs who elevates the film with style and wit. And “Blindspotting” offers the hope that perhaps his days of writing feature-length films aren’t behind him, because he seems to be on the cusp of a breakthrough here, now he just needs to unlock his full potential.

Grade: B

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