BLUEPRINT will be playing three times at CIFF. Get your tickets here:
Sometimes movies feel more like experiences that take you somewhere that you’ve had preconceived notions about, only to uncover a completely different perspective that you ponder long after the closing credits. A collaboration between actor Jerod Haynes and filmmaker Daryl Wein, BLUEPRINT is one of those experiences that leaves the viewer with a variety of emotions to process. Usually, reviews about movies have to be about the movie itself, but it’s hard not to get personal especially since this takes place in a city that is literally close to home.
My grandparents grew up in South Chicago and to this day, I have surrounding family on my dad’s side in and around the suburbs rather than the city proper. I grew up in Calumet City for close to the first decade of my life, and at one point, a family moved into the neighborhood that caused what is known as "white flight" from the majority of friends and neighbors. Part of me likes to believe that we relocated to Indiana for financial reasons, but as a friend of mine explained recently, we are all racist to one degree or another. I remember being deeply affected by this unfounded perception of other races or cultures as being "other" or "less than" by certain individuals, culminating with the Rodney King assault that I saw on the news. Now we live in a time where police brutality is prevalent and institutional racism is simply a norm that is a part of everyday life. BLUEPRINT confronts this fact head-on, showcasing the downward spiral that occurs when a family loses someone far too young. It is the kind of emotional experience I was hoping to get from Spike Lee's CHI-RAQ, which is an interesting mess that I wish had been more focused and pointed, rather than an amalgam of sorts. BLUEPRINT is streamlined, straightforward, and confrontational in ways that will be challenging for some, enlightening for others, and ultimately ends up becoming of the better portrayals of life on the South Side of Chicago that I've ever seen.
As opposed to a stylized hyper-reality contained in CHI-RAQ with its rhyme-speak and operatic preachiness, BLUEPRINT focuses on its subject in a documentary-like fashion. It feels real because it attempts to aim directly towards the realities and consequences of violence. Jerod plays a daycare teacher who suddenly experiences the death of his close friend. After an extremely difficult scene in which family members discuss the aftermath, Jerod must decide how to grapple with the horrific violence in his community. Which is often committed by those who were sworn to protect, rather than act in a fiercely reactionary fashion when a black person happens to be reaching for their wallet. Meanwhile, Jerod is also attempting to mend a tumultuous relationship with his girlfriend and their two children, as well as managing alcoholic tendencies. Jerod's mom is also there for support which culminates in a heartrending moment where Jerod comes home and tells his mother how alone and lost he feels. Despite dramatic moments, there is barely a hint of melodrama that feels out of place or forced. There are attempts at redemption, including a tender moment that takes place at a rally which attempts to memorialize the victims so others can heal. The ultimate question, which still has no answer, is how can the cycle of violence be broken? At this point, there is an instinct within certain demographics that encourages protection and self-preservation to the point of aggressive defense. And if a weapon is available and within reach, somehow one can feel safer knowing that it's there in case of emergency. But Jerod is an internally conflicted character that admits to "learning how to love" both himself and others. That message may be pure and simple but why isn't it put into action more often?
15 minutes in, the opening title fills the screen with the Chicago city skyline in the background. Shortly thereafter, the mother of Jerod's best friend admits to a feeling of utter defeatism in their community. She screams out "That's the problem, we don't know what to do." The film doesn't provide easy solutions as to how to make the world a better place. Currently, we would like to believe that gun control can help, but stricter gun regulations would have to occur on a national level, rather than state-to-state. Furthermore, there needs to be an open dialogue about why those in power choose to try and overpower those they consider to be "less than" or a "threat."
BLUEPRINT is a film that keeps the bigger issues on more of a micro-level, focusing on one human being's plight as he struggles to be a better person. At the same time, Jerod Harris doesn't make his portrayal all that sympathetic. He cheats, drinks and even ignores his own child at certain points. But you sense the internal conflict within and the movie which barely lasts 80 minutes, manages to pack a significant punch that also serves as a wake-up call. This is the humanistic portrayal of what's going on in Chicago that I've been hoping for. Many walk around in fear of what's to come, rather than feeling hopeful so I'm not sure if a positive vibe towards the end feels like a natural progression. My only quibble is that some of the dialogue doesn't ring as true. One somewhat subpar example of this was: “One day—I don’t know when—it’ll get better.” I understand the intention of the collaboration: to shed light on a difficult subject and to provide some insight along with the possibility of redemption for Jerod. And we are blessed to experience such warm humanity from both the director and its protagonist. Sadly, we're living in a time where it feels like it may be getting worse, and while BLUEPRINT captures that unfortunate reality, it also tries to leave the audience on a positive afterthought. There's no way to know if it'll get better, but seeing a movie like this makes you want to do more and creates an empathic portrayal of a genuine human being processing how and why people react so violently towards one another. It's one of the year's most striking films that I can't recommend highly enough. A-