Cinema Dispatch: Blindspotting

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Blindspotting and all the images you see in this review are owned by Lionsgate

Directed by Carlos López Estrada

I get the feeling that as long as THE SCROTUS is in power along with his horrible lackeys doing his bidding, we’ll be getting more movies like this that take social issues head on; not that these stories weren’t worth telling in the first place, rather that studios seem to have realized that capitalizing on the political zeitgeist is potentially profitable and may even earn some prestige awards as well.  Capitalism in effect I guess, and while there’s no real excuse for films like this NOT being prominent despite the problems it deals with being real and prescient for so many people, I guess it’s better that we’re NOW getting these movies in much wider releases than not getting them at all.  This by the way can easily swing in the other direction if we don’t turn things around soon and the powers that be try that much harder to silence dissent (#RehireJamesGun), so don’t give me that SUFFERING AND SOCIETAL ILLS MAKES GOOD ART crap; especially when said is often more accessible to those who aren’t suffering.  Anyway, with this movie and Sorry to Bother You coming out so close to each other, will this turn out to be the best time of the year to see thoughtful and brilliant movies about the world around us, or will this turn out to be a far less thoughtful and engaging alternative?  Let’s find out!!

Colin (Daveed Diggs) is just three days away from probation retirement and managed to get through most of it without much complication.  Sure his friend Miles (Rafael Casal) likes to indulge every once in a while with illegal gun sales and fist fights every once in a while, but Colin has managed to keep him from getting TOO out of hand and both of them out of trouble.  Now that we’re down to the wire though, things are starting to get tense with Colin having to figure out where he stands with the people in his life as soon as he’s free, and how much Oakland is changing due to gentrification and an influx of white hipsters; something that’s been setting Miles more and more off as time has gone by.  To top things off, while driving back to the halfway house to make curfew, Colin sees a cop (Ethan Embry) shoot an unarmed black man (Travis Parker) in the back.  Naturally the cop is hailed as a hero in the media, but Colin knows the truth and the world seems to have shifted just a little bit after such a blatant act of unwarranted violence has struck his community.  Can Colin make it to the end of his probation without rocking the boat, or will he be forced to do something and risk his freedom in the process?  Will Miles learn to live with a changing world; especially since he has a wife and kid (Jasmine Cephas Jones and Ziggy Baitinger) who depend on him?  You’d think that if you’re three days away from ANYTHING ending that you’d just lock yourself in your room until it’s over; just to be on the safe side!

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“If anyone asks, just say they’re mine.”     “Even if we try that, they’re STILL gonna shoot us you know!”

Somehow we managed to get two of the best movies of the year released nearly back to back as this is just as good as (if not a TINY bit better than) Sorry to Bother You for reasons that are very similar while also approaching the subject in a wildly different manner.  Everything about this movie is so richly detailed; from the individual characters we follow, to the way that scenes are composited to show as much life and humanity as possible in the smallest corners of this neighborhood and why the events of this story (which doesn’t JUST apply to Collin) really do matter and why things need to change.  It’s the other side of political commentary where Sorry to Bother You brought the fire and brimstone about tearing down the system while this film tugs at the heartstrings and is about understanding why it’s so important to fight in the first place.  It’s well made, it has a VERY strong cast, and the script, while a bit scattered in places, really delivers on its message and has the right amount of laugh out loud moments coupled with genuinely heartbreaking impact.

 

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“Don’t shoot officer!  I don’t have any weapons or drugs!”     “Who taught you that!?”     “My very responsible parents.”

While Sorry to Bother You is loud, dense, ridiculous, and avant-garde in its approach to discussing the intersection between racial politics and capitalistic exploitation, this movie is much more subdued and intimate in the way it tries to address the larger problems of our society.  To me, there were points and even a few characters in Sorry to Bother You that were more interested in making a statement than being a genuine part of a story which works really well there, but this movie never lets you forget how down to earth and real everything in this is even when it employs hyper stylistic imagery and caricatures of certain types of people.  Sorry to Bother You felt like the filmmakers were using the framework of one man’s struggle for success to tell a story about something other than that one person, and that worked because the filmmakers knew that’s what they were going for and pushed everything else around it up to eleven; taking advantage of the freedom of not having to ground its movie to anything other than the ideas and systems it wished to criticize.  This one is far more restrained, so we won’t be getting slave companies, magical white voices, and… other stuff that happens at the end, but in making this movie about this one character it manages to hit on a much more personal level and engender a sense of empathy that Sorry to Bother You didn’t really go for, and it works PERFECTLY for the story they’re telling here.

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“IS THIS THE REAL LIFE!?  IS THIS JUST FANTASY!?”     “The former.  This is ALL too real.”     “Darn it!”

Trey Parker of South Park popularized the idea that when writing a script you should use “therefore” instead of “and” as a good rule of thumb; basically concluding that scenes should build on top of each other (this happened THEREFORE this other thing happens) instead of having them work more like a list (this happened AND this other thing happens), and while I’d say that’s a decent way to approach a script, that’s not what they do here and it’s part of the genius of this story.  Yes, there’s a HUGE “therefore” moment right at the end, but everything we see before then is less a series of cascading events than it is just a cross section of this guy’s life.  He’s not going through anything particularly extraordinary for him and that’s what makes his story (as well as the ending) so prescient.  Because of who he is, what he looks like, and the way the system has treated him, he’s not able to escape the day to day realities of not just being a black man in America, but a convicted felon where that’s gonna be the label he has to wear for the rest of his life.  He’s trying to improve his life to be sure, but he’s not going through a real arc here so to speak, and the time he DOES get a screenplay ONLY IN THE MOVIES moment of redemption, revenge, heroism, what have you, it doesn’t ACTUALLY change anything and he just has to keep going from there.  Honestly, the character in this that DOES seem to have a traditional arc is Miles as he NEEDS to take action and grow due to the changing world around him, and the movie addresses this dichotomy with extraordinary acuity.  Miles wants things to stay the same but is forced to change in order to exist as a functioning human being in the modern world, and Collin doesn’t get that luxury because no matter what he does (even if he cuts his braids) he’s still going to be a tall black man with a criminal past.  I mean I could easily be reading this situation incorrectly, but these two characters pretty much exemplify the power of white privilege and the nuances of it in a rather brilliant manner.  Being white doesn’t automatically make things easy as Miles’s life was clearly one filled with hardship, but when faced with failure, defeat, or falling from grace, there’s always THAT much more wiggle room for redemption; to HAVE that character arc that puts them back on track and on the right side of things.  For Collin and people like him, they’d just as soon be sacrificed to an uncaring and brutal system or even shot in the back rather than see them as people who can grow and change; something I’m sure society will let Miles do if he does turn things around for himself.

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“Second Amendment, BRO!!”     “Yeah, well ask Bobby Seale and Huey Newton how well that worked.”     “Dude, I’m white.”     “That is true.  Carry on.”

Before potentially digging myself into a hole, I do want to make sure it’s clear if it wasn’t already that I’m a middle class white dude trying to dissect the racial and political undertones of this movie, so I’m am FAR from the only perspective you should be listening to in regards to this movie.  In fact, the one aspect I’m very unsure about in this movie is the white character of Miles and I couldn’t tell you how and to what degree my thoughts on the character reveal my own ignorance on these issues.  To me, he was a charismatic guy who had a lot of good qualities to him (his loyalty being a big one), but is steeped so much in toxic masculinity as to make him much more of a liability than he should be; i.e. the standard MAN CHILD arc only with a lot more violence, and “urban gansta flavor”.  That begs the question though, are his grievances with the gentrification of the neighborhood as valid as a person of color’s, or even valid to ANY sort of degree?  Well… I guess I’d have to say… no to the former and yes to the latter?  I mean he’s clearly not a poser as he did indeed live a harsh life and grew up in this environment, but where that lived experience ends and his own racial privilege as a white dude in Oakland begins is where things get muddied and where so much of this movie gets its strength; but then maybe I’m not seeing things as clearly as I should because of my own privilege as a white dude and someone else can better explain how his story “fits” within the larger problems of gentrification and racial injustice.  Something that is probably telling about the movie and how it’s being marketing and distributed, is that I ended up seeing this in a fancy-schmancy theater (the kind that plays Jazz in the bathroom speakers and shows artwork on screen instead of advertisements before the trailers) in an audience made up as far as I could tell of only white people, and a group of said white people talked about Daveed Diggs being in Hamilton right after the movie ended.  I’m sure that means something about how high quality and forward thinking media (like Hamilton) are mostly consumed by people who said media aren’t really about, but I’m sure someone more clever than I could put much better words to it.

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“Dude, we’ll call this an Artesian Tugboat and it’ll practically sell itself.”     “You’re much more of an optimist than me.”     “Dude, if you’re THAT worried we’ll add Organic to it.”

There aren’t really any problems with the movie, but if pressed I’d say that some of the subplots felt a bit out of place or underdeveloped.  Not to a truly distracting degree, as the whole point of the movie is to build upon the frustrations of Colin rather than towards some sort of overarching plot, but maybe a few extra minutes on the runtime to flesh out certain characters wouldn’t have been a bad idea.  The most blatant would probably be Collin’s mother who gets one scene rather early on but doesn’t come back into the picture after that despite seemingly being a VERY important person in Collin’s life and could have been a strong anchor or even confidant for him to bounce off of.  Also, the trailer sells the movie on the shooting being the primary driving force of the movie with the cops basically trying to trap him to keep him silent, but that is not the case in the slightest.  The shooting is always THERE as it hangs over Colin’s head throughout the whole movie, but the struggle is entirely internal and doesn’t really drive the events of the movie.  It drives Collin to a certain extent and is certainly critical as we get towards the ending, but this isn’t the kind of movie that’ll have car chases or a crooked police commissioner out to get him.  Turns out, there doesn’t need to be a giant conspiracy to have the system screw you over for targeted harassment!  WHO KNEW!?

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“Hey!  What are you doing!?”     “Walking.”     “WITHOUT A PERMIT!?”

Sorry to Bother You was a joy ride that ran the gamut of emotions for me and left me feeling energized as I left the theater.  This movie had its moments like that, but more than anything I just left the theater thinking about what I saw which may or may not make this the better movie.  I usually hate it when people say that movie A is better but they enjoyed movie B more (the idea that “enjoyment” is somehow less important of a metric than any other aspect of a film bothers me to no end), but this is one of those situation where I MIGHT just be willing to concede it to a point.  There’s SO much to enjoy in this movie from its strong visual style, fantastic acting, and genuinely funny moments, but what will stay with you as you leave the theater is the tension our main character constantly feels, or the relationships he has that are strained by actions he regrets or circumstances that were thrust upon him.  Trying to decide which one is better is a fool’s errand since both are so much more entertaining than ninety percent of the movies we’ve gotten this year so far and I absolutely recommend checking this one out if you get the chance.  That, and Daveed Diggs does a few raps in here which makes this the closest thing we’ve gotten yet to a Hamilton film!

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If you liked this review and plan on buying the movie, then use the Amazon link below!  I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite!  In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed!  Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage!  You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop!  HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?

Blindspotting (2018) [Blu-ray]

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