The Screening Room | Bracing 'Blindspotting' a highlight of 2018

The Screening Room | Bracing 'Blindspotting' a highlight of 2018

You can't help but feel for Collin. He has three days left before his probation is over; then he'll be able to take off his ankle monitor, walk around unencumbered, stay out as late as he wants and be free, or at least as free as a young black man can be in Oakland, Calif., circa 2018.

But it seems as though fate is conspiring to ensure he somehow breaks the terms of his sentence. His knucklehead best friend, Miles, whom he works and socializes with, is carrying around a gun he just bought and, seemingly oblivious to his buddy's situation, puts Collin in one compromising situation after another. He also can't get anywhere with his ex, Val (Janina Gavankar), who has a grudge she can't let go of in relation to his past deeds.

There's a sense that the chips are stacked against Collin in Carlos Lopez Estarada's "Blindspotting," one of the major cinematic surprises of 2018, and it's a feeling that must be shared by the majority of young black men in the U.S. today.

Scripted by Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, who also star as Collin and Miles, respectively, the film hooks us from its initial scenes of conflict comedy between the two principals but then gradually turns into a searing social commentary on the lack of opportunity for those living on the margins today, the appropriation of urban culture through gentrification and the existential crisis young men face today, torn between emulating media images of masculinity or embracing traditional family values.

There's a great deal on these creators' plates, and they don't shrink from the many sides of these pressing issues, but rather embrace them and their complexity. As such, Diggs and Casal don't insult the audience by going out of their way to provide easy answers or convenient solutions to the thorny problems they tackle. Instead, "Blindspotting" proves to be an invitation to all interested parties to take a place at the table to help find a solution to the issue of race that plagues our country before it destroys us all.

These two young men are at a crossroads, and the paths available to them are all difficult to travel. Collin is an unjustified target simply because of his age and the color of his skin. Though he seems to be making the right moves in terms of holding on to a steady job and trying to reconcile with his ex, there's no guarantee he'll be able to find stability and happiness. He could very well be gunned down for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time or because he's black.

No other movie I've seen captures the sense of paranoia and fear that must simmer just below the surface of young men of color the way "Blindspotting" does. Don't be surprised if you experience a tightening of the stomach each time Collin steps out on the street. The sense of empathy Diggs and Estrada create for him is that palpable and powerful.

Miles' situation isn't that much better. Torn between being a family man and a boy of the streets, his world is rocked when their neighborhood is invaded by young, successful white professionals who buy rundown homes cheaply, then shoehorn modern McMansions into these spaces. As his environment and its denizens change around him, Miles is suddenly a stranger in a strange land, trying to cope with this sense of displacement while balancing his home life — where he does so much right — with his arrested development.

Rare is the film that captures the feeling of the times while having the ability to provide a cathartic experience for the viewer. "Blindspotting" succeeds where "BlacKkKlansman" and "Sorry to Bother You" fall short in that it is able to forge an emotional bond between the characters and the audience, putting us in the shoes of its protagonists in a way only the best movies can.

The film appeals not simply to our sense of outrage but also to our hearts, separating it from the pack and making it one of the best films of the year.

'Blindspotting' (★★★★ out of four)

Cast: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Ethan Embry, Kevin Carroll, Jon Chaffin, Margo Hall and Wayne Knight.

Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada; produced by Keith Calder, Casal and Diggs; screenplay by Casal and Diggs.

A Lionsgate release. 95 minutes. Rated R (language, some brutal violence, sexual references and drug use). At the Art Theater.

Also new in theaters

Initially gripping 'Searching' falters at the end (★★ out of four). Every parent's worst nightmare is at the center of Aneesh Chaganty's film, an at-times-harrowing abduction story that revolves around one father's search for his missing daughter.

However, instead of going on the run and using a "particular set of skills" a la Liam Neeson, the dad in question here uses his child's computer to piece together clues that may lead to her abductor. More telling are the things he learns about his daughter as he delves into her online life, an act that leads to far too many uncomfortable revelations, all of which underscore just how little he knows about her.

Chaganty hooks us from the start with a long prologue that acts very much like the beginning of Pixar's "Up." Seeing only the screen of the Kim family's computer, we witness the ups and downs of the nuclear unit by watching all that is recorded and saved on the device's desktop.

We see young Margot grow from a precocious little girl to a confident young teen about to enter high school, while also witnessing her mother Pam's (Sara Sohn) arduous bout with cancer before she eventually succumbs to it. Her father David (John Cho) ages over the course of this montage that covers more than a decade, ever vigilant, ever supportive of the two most important people in his life. This opening is very well done, primarily because Chaganty also chronicles how social media emerges, grows and changes over this time, a factor that plays a key role in the film.

Once this exposition is dispensed with, David becomes concerned over the lack of communication he's had with his daughter over a two-day period, being misled into thinking she's away on a camping trip with friends. Turns out, none of her peers know where she is, leaving the panicked father no other choice but to call the police. Upon telling all he knows of Margot's last whereabouts, he's introduced to Detective Vick (Debra Messing), who's been assigned to this case.

What ensues follows the standard procedural model except for one key difference: We are only privy to David's efforts to uncover clues as he hacks into his daughters various social-media and email accounts to contact her friends and associates. What he discovers is something all parents fear and suspect: that through a misplaced sense of giving their kids privacy and a major dose of denial, they truly don't know anything about their child.

Much like the criminally underrated "Unfriended: Dark Web" from earlier this year, the viewer's perspective is restricted to nothing but the Kims' desktop screen. As the cursor frantically skitters from one window to the next, we are privy to Margot's online history, as well as the many Facetime calls David gets or makes and newscasts from television station websites that keep the viewer abreast of developments in the young woman's case.

While this approach tempts stagnation, Chaganty keeps things moving at a brisk pace, switching from one desktop window to another regularly and even utilizing footage from planted cameras when David is forced to leave the computer. What could easily have become a fragmented mess of disparate parts proves engaging, a distinctive 21st-century vision that mirrors the sort of storytelling younger generations have embraced.

While all of this is intriguing enough, the film falters during its third act. There's a plot twist that's just a bit too convenient for its own good, as well as a resolution that's far too neat. Had it followed through on its initial dark concept, "Searching" would have been one of the best thrillers of the year. Instead, it follows the pattern of far too many movies follow today, containing a hell of a hook but little in the way of follow through.

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