This has been a big year for Oakland. The A's are currently 19 games over .500, far exceeding preseason expectations, and the city has been the setting and subject of more than a few major feature films. But none address The Town's past, present, and future quite like Blindspotting. Written by Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, and directed by newcomer Carlos López Estrada, it's an imperfect and uneven—yet compelling—look at race, growth, and relationships against a backdrop of near-unstoppable change.
Collin (Diggs) and Miles (Casal) are longtime best friends from Oakland; Collin is just a few days from his probation ending, and Miles is raising a son with girlfriend Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) while getting visibly—and vocally—frustrated with their gentrifying city. After Collin witnesses a cop shooting a black man in the street, he's forced to consider his place in the world while also dealing with the aftermath of the Miles-fueled incident that sent him away.
The warmth between Diggs and Casal is palpable, which fuels most of Blindspotting's best parts and makes the eventual confrontation between the two that much more violent. The trailer presented this as a typical good-seed/bad-seed friendship, which Diggs and Casal smartly avoid. Instead, you can tell Collin prefers not to closely examine the relationship between the two; it's only later, after an awkwardly placed scene where his crime is revealed, that he's forced to reckon with Miles's anger and the differences between them.
Differences that are accentuated by the shooting, which—again, very wisely—is more lingering threat than story catalyst. Collin has become the one keen to avoid guns and trouble, while Miles has a deep-seated desire to be perceived as hard, legit, and justifiably from the old Oakland. Diggs and Casal both grew up in the Bay, and it's telling that the Hamilton star used his newfound fame to get a movie made about his hometown. Diggs has said on Marc Maron's podcast that he's been a gentrifier in other cities, and you can see how regrets about being complicit—and the need to prove you “belong” somewhere—came from both sides of the writing duo.
The way Collin responds to the shooting recalls a key scene in Steven Spielberg's Munich, a film I often point to when discussing embarrassing depictions of haunting memories. But unlike in Spielberg's film, where Bana flails and moans about an admittedly horrifying massacre that he still didn't see or experience in any way, Collin actually saw the murder—and did nothing—which adds real weight to his feelings of anger and regret. There's no cinematic trope more overutilized than “the gasp after waking up from a bad dream,” but seeing a fellow black man needlessly killed by the police definitely qualifies as a justified reuse.
There are moments when Blindspotting shifts, and nearly loses its footing. The ending is intense but takes a stylish leap that the movie has only hinted at previously, and the aforementioned reveal of Collin's transgression—in a scene played for laughs at the moving company where he and Miles work—is strong but instantly undercut by the jokes that follow. You can tell that this is Estrada's first feature; he lacks the conviction of fellow (47-year-old) rookie Boots Riley, whose Sorry to Bother You is scattered but definitively his. This has all the trappings of a young director doing his best to adapt someone else's work.
But even though elements of Blindspotting can be oddly toned or timed, those flaws don't cripple the final product. This is a film that feels genuine, earned, and honest to what Diggs, Casal, and anyone born and bred in a changing city experience on a daily basis. I'm a huge fan of a tight, taut, well-told story that rises and falls with sharp ease, but that doesn't mean I'll shun a project fueled by passion, especially one as timely as this.