As the summer winds down from the season’s requisite anchor film blockbusters, there will be increasing room for a few independent films that will make their way from the festival circuit to fill the newly vacated screens at your local multiplex. For some it will be to attain eligibility for the year-end award season. For others it will be a short window to turn a profit from what was conceived more as a work of art. For others it’s a chance to become a sleeper hit. And for others yet, it’s an opportunity to deliver a social message on the larger soapbox of the big screens. Blindspotting appears to be on the cusp of all of these things. But perhaps it comes a little early for any awards consideration and at a time where it is still competing with the mega-films of the summer. There’s no doubt that the film attempts to hit us with a message, but it falls just short of that accomplishment. Blindspotting works best as a character study, and it’s in that mode that the film almost approaches compelling.
As the film begins we meet Collin, played by Daveed Digs. He’s been in prison for severely beating a man at a club, and now he’s just days away from probation. His probation will last a year, where he’ll stay at a halfway house, work a job, and attempt to follow some simple rules that he doesn’t quite make. We jump forward, and he’s on his last three days of probation. But his biggest problem getting through them will be his relationship with long-time friend Miles, played by Rafael Casal. Miles hasn’t had the sobering experience of prison and is still too wild to keep Collin out of trouble. But Collin is torn between his loyalty to his close friend and wanting to turn his own life around. It doesn’t help that in the short time he was in prison his neighborhood has begun to fall to gentrification, and he’s starting to feel alienated from his own life. Of course, he spends too much time with Miles. They work as partners for a moving company and spend most of their off hours together. Collin is starting to realize the harm the relationship is doing, but he might not be able to pull himself away before it ruins his second chance.
All of this is made nearly impossible when Collin has a life-altering experience while driving to his halfway house in the company truck. He’s stopped at a light when he witnesses a cop shoot a running and unarmed black man in the back. The news reports the incident far differently than Collin knows it happened. But he’s scared to get involved because of his own situation. Still, it gives him nightmares and occupies his thoughts to the point of obsession. Obviously, at some point he’ll be forced to confront this demon. What will he do when that day arrives?
Director Carlos Lopez Estrada is quite obviously attempting to drive this character study into a Black Lives Matter awareness project, but he doesn’t take enough bold steps to complete that connection. We never really get too deeply into the facts of the shooting, and beyond his nightmares we never quite see how Collin is processing the information. It’s almost a throwaway scene until a bit of a twist at the end brings it all home. Estrada appears hesitant to commit himself to one kind of a film. Instead he mixes in rather absurd moments and events that make the turn toward a black comedy. It’s his huge dilemma here. He wants to deliver a message, but he’s also wanting to entertain.
The cinematography is certainly unique and somewhat brave. There’s a street-level shooting style here that is often more compelling than the story. Estrada takes us deep into the seamy streets of Oakland. You can tell he understands his location well, and he wants so desperately for us to see what he sees and understands. In that point he succeeds quite brilliantly. The same can be said for the characters themselves. The two leads share some complex and often twisted chemistry, but it works. I was completely sold both on the characters and the relationship. I wanted to see more. And that’s where Estrada perhaps goes the farthest astray. He has a compelling relationship and good actors. It’s a good character study that the director appears to fight the entire film.
This is certainly a film that provokes both emotion and thought. It was a hit on the festival circuit but will not drive much box office gold. Of course, that’s not necessarily the intent here. The film’s a fresh change-up of the usual summer standards and will likely gain a bit more sucess when it hits home video. That’s when you’ll be able to linger with this experience in the comfort of your home theatre. “To stare is to see.”