Atlanta Film Festival Review: Blindspotting

Score: A-

Director: Carlos López Estrada

Cast: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Ethan Embry

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rated: NR

Bold, electric, funny and intense, Blindspotting is the debut of the year. Lifelong friends Daveed Diggs (a Tony winner for Hamilton) and Rafael Casal co-write and co-star in a film that touches on everything from gentrification to police shootings and racial identity to criminal justice. It also has a lot of time for freestyle raps. In a way, it reminded me of Atlanta, even though the film is distinctly about Oakland.

Diggs plays Collin, who's three days away from finishing his year of probation. He spends his days moving richer folks around with his lifelong buddy Miles (Casal, making his film debut), who grew up on the poor side of town, but often gets dismissed as a poser. That night on his way home, he witnesses a cop (Ethan Embry) shoot and kill a man without any justification.

Violence is woven into the fabric of this story, but that doesn't mean there's not a lot of humor. The banter between Collin and Miles feels like the back-and-forth of two guys who have known each other for years. They pass their time on jobs by creating raps that are actually pretty strong. On top his court-imposed restrictions, Collin's hung up on his ex-girlfriend and co-worker (Janina Gavankar), trying to woo her back by helping her study and bringing her overpriced kale smoothies.

Blindspotting has a lot to say about the shifting economics of cities, especially when those cause families and communities to be uprooted. But it's not 100 percent critical, as one character comments, "I'll be damned if I move now that they actually got good food around here." And it also has plenty of thoughts on policing too, noting that much of Oakland P.D. doesn't even live in the communities they serve and protect, but rather come in from much more affluent suburbs.

The film finds its home in that juxtaposition. An Uber ride in a lowrider with monster truck tires is a prelude to a serious conversation about gun ownership. A party infested with hipsters working for tech companies serves as the catalyst for an extremely violent and tense night. Lesser films couldn't handle such shifts in tone without giving the audience whiplash. That these are writers, directors and actors making their feature debuts (save Diggs, who appeared in last year's tearjerker Wonder) is all the more impressive.

Blindspotting is a film with a lot to say and an interesting way of saying it. Many films might have ambitions for one or the other. While the film's finale teeters over into preachiness, it's built up its justification for it. There are still a lot of movies to come out this year, but my hunch is none will be like Blindspotting.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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