In the words of Blindspotting‘s co-star Rafael Casal, the film is “a comedy in a world that won’t let it be one.” Fair enough. Written by Casal (a wordsmith who cut his teeth on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam) and his real-life buddy Daveed Diggs, who won a Tony for playing both Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette in Broadway’s Hamilton, it’s definitely a movie that finds its humor in some hellish places.
Diggs plays Collin, an ex-con with three days to go on his probation. Casal is Miles, his white best friend with no talent for staying out of trouble. Furniture movers by trade, the two pass the time in freestyle rap duels. But they hate the gentrification happening at home in Oakland, and Collin has just seen a cop shoot an unarmed black man. If he releases his anger in any way, the parolee will be back in the slammer.
Plus it turns out that Miles was instrumental in why Collin did time. Despite lingering resentment, Diggs makes it clear that this parolee is desperate to go straight and hoping to win back his ex, Val (Janina Gavankar), who also works at the moving company. She doesn’t trust Miles, and with good reason. Casal plays this impulsive hothead like a coiled wire ready to spring. In a scene that provokes audience gasps, the hothead enrages his wife, Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones), by bringing home a gun that their young son treats like a plaything.
Blindspotting is pervaded by the feeling of waiting for an explosion, and the film makes good use of push-pull friction in the Oakland streets and neighborhoods – some gentrified, others not – that give the film its striking regional authenticity. The film reaches an emotional peak when Collin confronts the white cop whose guilt keeps eating at him, at which point debuting director Carlos López Estrada proves that he’s an expert at building tension.
But it’s our everyman hero’s final face-off with his closest friend that gives the film its heat. Some may find it off-putting that Miles and Collin tend to express their rawest feelings in rap battles that cut way deeper than regular conversation. And unfortunately, it’s those same feelings that stick in the memory when López Estrada overdoes the melodrama and lets the plot fire off in too many directions. No worries. Diggs and Casal will keep you riveted.