Might contain spoilers.
Brilliant. A masterpiece, not in spite of having something to say but because of it. It’s taut, tense, and suspenseful, yet hilarious, entertaining, and engrossing, but also poignant and devastating. It’s empathetic without being naïve What a feat it is to be able to speak with so much wit and charm about something fundamentally heartbreaking and tragic. I agree with Paste Magazine’s review that the story (apparently) loses a lot of ambiguity in this telling, but I see that as a fair trade for what it’s able to achieve.
The film is incisive and insightful on top of everything else. There’s the
Matter sign on the lawn of the Karens. There’s Maddy’s performative apology (to which Kunle reacts
beautifully by shutting the door two sentences in) and Emma’s privilege in feeling mildly awkward
about thanking them for saving her life as Kunle struggles with trauma he can never rid himself of.
And there’s Sean succinctly dissecting the loopholes certain people use around racist slurs.
The performances are what make that central dilemma so effective: it would have no impact if Sean and Kunle weren’t so captivating. Both RJ Cyler and Donald Elise Watkins bring an effortless charisma and believability to their roles. Kunle is clearly and obviously in the right for not being willing to leave an unconscious girl next to a frat party, but Sean isn’t painted as a villain for not wanting to become a statistic through no fault of his own. Similarly, even though it might be funny to see his cousin’s friends rush out the door as soon as they see Emma, it’s easy to understand their fear.
As it reached the climax, I saw no way for it to end well. I was certain Sean would die, then I was certain Kunle would die. I was sure throughout that Emma would die. I’m greatly relieved that everyone survived. In fact, I was about to write that I was glad everyone got a happy ending, until I remembered the point of the story. I doubt I’ll ever forget the haunting final image of Kunle being paralyzed by the sound of passing police sirens.