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MOVIES: Blindspotting - Review [Sundance 2018]

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Daveed Diggs is best known for his lightning-fast rhyming skills in the Broadway smash Hamilton, where the dual role of Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafatyette earned him a Tony Award. But his first leading role, as an Oakland youth counting down the final three days of his probation, could very well catapult him to a whole new level of fame and recognition - not to mention prestige.

Equal parts hilarious buddy comedy and blistering social commentary, Blindspotting follows Collin (Diggs) as he tries desperately to stay out of trouble for 72 more hours, a task which is repeatedly jeopardized by his best friend Miles (Rafael Casal, who developed the screenplay with Diggs for several years). With a penchant for violent outbursts and growing hatred for the gentrification of their neighborhood, which finds the corner bodega selling bottles of green juice for ten dollars and burger joints offering vegan options ("you have to specifically ask for beef," a clerk advises), Miles is the single biggest threat to Collin's freedom.

Adding to his troubles: the shooting of a fleeing black man by a white cop (Ethan Embry), which Collin witnesses while stopped at a traffic light. In typical fashion, the news media presents the victim as a convicted felon who may have been carrying a weapon, and Collin knows that coming forward with the truth will likely serve no purpose - the public at large is far more likely to believe the word of a career law enforcement officer than a young black man with a criminal record.

Blindspotting explores and articulates numerous issues which feel particularly relevant in today's sociopolitical climate, while also serving as a love letter to Diggs and Casal's native Oakland. Not only was the film shot on location, but the dialogue is steeped in the city's unique brand of hip-hop culture: the characters frequently communicate via slang that borders on incomprehensible, and in the film's climax Collin channels all of his rage and confusion into a savagely delivered freestyle rhyme that creates one of the most tension-filled cinematic moments in recent memory.

The smart and stylish direction by Carlos Lopez Estrada (making his feature debut) and the captivating, charismatic performances by its two leads have already turned Blindspotting into one of the most buzzed-about offerings at Sundance. But while the festival atmosphere sometimes inflates expectations to a level that can never quite be achieved, Blindspotting delivers such a vibrant and original experience that every bit of hype surrounding the film feels well-deserved.

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