As Mugatu from the Zoolander films might say, “Oakland’s so hot right now.”
Though Carlos López Estrada’s Blindspotting gets at what’s happening in modern East Bay more thoroughly and realistically than Boots Riley’s satirical call to action, Sorry To Bother You, the feature directorial debuts have different aims yet still complement one another to a thrilling degree.
While Sorry To Bother You’s hyperbolized take on corporate greed and the power of organized people to enact change makes it feel like Michel Gondry’s Get Out, the tonally-grounded Blindspotting sets its sights on such concerns as police brutality, the trappings of the court system, gentrification, wealthy transplants displacing longtime residents — many of them black — and the rise of hipster culture.
It also may be the most convincing portrait of what it’s like to psychologically and emotionally deal with the aftermath of witnessing a murder, and is handled with such poetic aplomb by writers Daveed Diggs (Wonder) and Rafael Casal that it never feels like a lecture, only a bright shining spotlight on truth.
Diggs and Casal also star as childhood best friends Collin and Miles, respectively, and are arguably the cinematic duo of the year. The interracial pals have chemistry to spare and are slick with words, often in what would otherwise be uncomfortable scenarios — a deftness that makes sense considering the actors’ spoken word artist backgrounds.
In the hands of less skilled performers, their occasional exchanges in freestyle rhymes could come off as corny or painfully quirky, but the mutual support provided and the observational wit employed in the off-the-cuff compositions further drives home their bond and makes each new impromptu cypher a welcome addition.
The narrative propelling this relationship involves ex-con Collin attempting to ride out the final days of his parole without violations, a goal that’s compromised once volatile Miles buys a gun with a mind to protecting his wife (Jasmine Cephas Jones, Mistress America) and young son Sean (newcomer Ziggy Baitinger), and by Collin witnessing a cop (Ethan Embry) shoot and kill an unarmed man.
With the clock ticking toward freedom and the added drama of Collin’s attempts to prove to his ex-girlfriend Val (Janina Gavankar, Luna from HBO’s True Blood) that he’s not defined by the crime he committed, Blindspotting resembles Do The Right Thing’s palpable sense of tensions ready to boil over.
Though the script could use a more seamless integration of the title’s verbalization, Diggs and Casal so seamlessly weave the stresses facing their characters’ community into the film’s breathless final stretch that the hiccup can be excused as one of the debut screenwriters’ few rookie mistakes.
Also difficult to embrace — at least initially — is a climax that tips into Sorry To Bother You territory, yet as it plays out it encapsulates so many aspects of Collin’s life and struggles in one interaction, providing the catharsis he so desperately craves and earning Blindspotting a place among the year’s best films.
Grade: A-minus. Rated R. Now playing at Carolina Cinemark