There’s plenty of lightning in “Blindspotting,” in the dramatically charged story of race and class in an ever-dynamic Oakland, Calif., unfolds — and then there’s the thunder, when the twin talents of actors and writers Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs are unleashed in full verbal fury.
Diggs and Casal play Collin and Miles, best friends since childhood on the mean streets of Oakland, currently working dead-end jobs for a moving company. Collin is on parole, with only three days left to serve, and he’s especially careful not to get himself in any situations that might send him back to prison.
Unfortunately, one of those situations is being around Miles, a hothead who sometimes likes to brandish a gun and pick fights with the upwardly mobile who are gentrifying the neighborhood. “You have to get rid of Miles,” warns Collin’s still caring ex-girlfriend, Val (Janina Gavankar). “He’s either going to put you back in jail or he’s going to get you killed.”
Adding to the conflict in Collin’s mind: One night, as he’s finishing a run in the moving truck, he witnesses a white police officer (Ethan Embry) shoot a fleeing suspect, a black man, in the back, killing him. The incident makes him miss curfew, jeopardizing the end of his probation, and presents him with a dilemma: Stay silent about what he saw, or speak out and risk the wrath of the police.
Director Carlos López Estrada, making a sure-footed feature debut, surfs that fine line Collin and Miles are navigating between the Oakland they knew and the one growing up around them. It’s a place where their old pal Dex (Jon Chaffin) is selling Miles a handgun from his tricked-out car one moment, and the next taking a fare as an Uber driver. López Estrada also veers between heightened realism and stylized fantasy, from the police shooting on the streets to a dream-sequence courtroom hearing where Collin is assailed by his demons.
Casal and Diggs, both as performers and writers, are the guiding lights of “Blindspotting.” Their sharp observations of their hometown, where low-wage strivers and wealthy young professionals bump against each other, are razor-sharp. So are their word skills, which get their fullest exposure in Diggs’ searing final soliloquy, which even leaves his Tony-winning work in “Hamilton” in the dust.
“Blindspotting” is a document of our times, of people uncomfortably close to economic devastation and racial subjugation. It’s as fresh and alive as any big city, a movie you don’t just watch but breathe in.
Opened July 20 in select cities, opens widely on Friday, including the Broadway Centre Cinemas (Salt Lake City), on July 27. Rated R for language throughout, some brutal violence, sexual references and drug use. Running time: 95 minutes.