Blindspotting review - Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal are the new creative duo to watch
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Actor and rapper, Hamilton star Daveed Diggs adds writer and producer to his list of talents with the Sundance Grand Jury Prize nominated Blindspotting, which he co-wrote, co-produced, and co-stars in alongside friend and collaborator Rafael Casal.
Directed by Carlos López Estrada, this film really is a love letter to Oakland, California — the hometown of both the creators and the characters Collin (Diggs) and Miles (Casal). Working as removal men, Collin is trying got stay out of trouble for the last three days of his parole, while Miles juggles his troublemaking tendencies with caring for his girlfriend Ashley (Jasmine Cephas-Jones) and son.
The episodic nature of the film keeps it distinctly indie, and allows it to fluctuate effortlessly between stomach-churning tension and gut-busting humour. It’s no mean feat to balance the two and maintain a consistent tone, but Blindspotting does it with flair.
The drive of the piece comes when Collin witnesses a police shooting, and the visceral effect it has on him changes his perceptions about his friendship with Miles.
Interwoven with the impact of PTSD on a black man in relation to race related police violence, we see the vibrancy and immediacy of Oakland culture in all its facets. Tisha Campbell-Martin is hilarious as bargain-driving hairdresser Mama Liz, while Utkarsh Ambudkar (Pitch Perfect) and Lance Holloway deliver some of the best comedic moments.
A story about insiders and outsiders in various ways, those comedy characters have us laughing with them, while the gentrifying force of hipsters overrunning the neighbourhood definitely have us laughing at them. The community is sacred in this film, but while for some outsiders appropriating a sense of belonging is a fun cultural pastime, for Collin that belonging is both his greatest strength and a potential death sentence.
Diggs and Casal are electric on screen together — their long standing real life friendship makes for an ease together on screen which is a joy to watch. Their easy camaraderie and quick fire freestyling give way to a sharp and distinctly dangerous energy as tensions rise between them.
Janina Gavankar is understatedly instrumental in her role as Collin’s ex-girlfriend Val, whose own immigrant identity adds another layer to the theme of belonging. The chemistry between her and Diggs is sweet, and both Gavankar and Cephas-Jones’ “girlfriend” characters have a satisfying depth, with three dimensional lives outside of the men in their lives.
The urgency of the film ebbs and flows, with absolutely nail-biting tension spaced out just enough to leave you exhausted from hanging on the edge of your seat. There are some weaker moments — thoroughly unsubtle dream sequences which could have been left out, and a weird dragging of pace in the third act — but the explosive climax makes up for it all. Diggs is at his absolute best — a true powerhouse of a performer who really has only just begun.
Alongside the film itself, Diggs and Casal have released The Collin EP (and are working towards releasing The Miles EP) - with the two of them rapping and collaborating with other artists in a way that expands upon the characters. The last song on The Collin EP (by Marc Bamuthi Joseph) sums up the work done in this film with these lines:
And that's the kind of artist that I am:
Someone that maybe does not just tell stories,
But tells stories in service of freedom.
Expect great things in future from both Diggs and Casal. Read our interview with Diggs here.
Blindspotting arrives in UK cinemas on October 5th, distributed by Lionsgate.