Movie Review: A Deadly, Panicked Police Shooting, the definition of “Blindfire”

“Blindfire” is the (fictional) account of a deadly police shooting that sets out to demonstrate such situations are “complicated.” But as it tells its story from the “troubled” cop’s point of view, the film’s problematic agenda clashes with its clumsy, unrealistic narrative. And like too many “cops shoot an unarmed Black man” tales, it leaves nothing but harm in its wake.

Still, give this to writer-director Michael Nell. The term “Blindfire” could describe an awful lot of police shootings that prompt the word “murder” to be chanted at protests. Officer Bishop (Brian Geraghty) fires blind in an instant misread of a “threat.” The “shoot in self-defense” excuse won’t stand up to any scrutiny.

The victim (Chiké Okonkwo), whose story is barely glimpsed here, is not just a big 30something Black man with tattoos and a pullover hoodie. He’s a high school football coach, watching a ball game with his little girl. The call, a “hostage situation” with a distraught suspect threatening his family, was a case of “swatting,” a prank that informed the police of a non existent “crime” created an incorrect set of expectations.

Oh, and Officer Bishop, like most human beings, has “problems.” He’s living in a motel at the start of a divorce. He’s drinking more, off duty we hope.

Sure, that’s “complicated.” But nothing the script throws at us distracts the viewer from the notion that race, callous stereotyping and carelessness killed a man in his own house, minding his own business, while his screaming little girl watched him bleed-out.

Writer-director Nell doesn’t have Bishop’s Black and (checkbox screenwriting) lesbian partner, Officer Wilkins (Sharon Leal of “Dreamgirls”) show her doubts and question Bishop’s motives and state of mind, at least not in this cut of this too-brief-for-a-serious-subject film. No, another officer (comic Wayne Brady) blurts out the “You get a prize for every brother you kill?” accusation.

The victim’s nurse-wife (Edwina Findley Dickerson) melts down, his stoic father (Charles Robinson of “Night Court”) stares Bishop down.

But Nell’s interest here is in the “real victim” (to him). It’s the swatting and Bishop’s semi-sober efforts, as an untrained detective, to track down the person the writer-director seems to regard as “the REAL criminal” here. The polite term for that is somebody who “doesn’t GET it.”

The performances don’t elevate the material, and the lack of names in the cast suggest there wasn’t much more to this, even if there are longer cuts of this script. The flaws are in the very conception of “Blindfire,” in its point of view.

We’ve heard or read the stories, or seen the videos — when police chiefs or law-unto-themselves-sheriffs haven’t suppressed it. A situation goes from routine to shoot-to-kill in a flash. The excuses are a litany of “he/she didn’t respond to commands” or “I thought he had a gun” or what have you. Police departments are letting armed, armor-plated and institutionally-immunized officers shoot in fear or shoot because they’re provoked, and get away with it.

Race is an overwhelming tipping point in such incidents. There’s a serious movie in this subject, one that sticks closer to reality and reaches for balance.

First-time director Nell isn’t the person to make that movie. He limits the focus here and shrinks the population of people who’d be involved when a case like this blows up. The highest ranking cop Bishop faces is a sympathetic-to-his-plight/”get your mind right” (stick to your story) sergeant.

Yes, “accidents” happen. Funny how they almost always end with a dead Black person. No, the police in St. Anthony, Minnesota, Brevard County, Florida or Louisville, Kentucky or elsewhere don’t admit to their lethal mistakes. And no, as the comedian Chris Rock says, we can’t tolerate “accidents” like that any more than we’d tolerate careless and union-protected from any punishment airline pilots.

Nell isn’t interested in the victim, and he isn’t even interested enough in the cop to make a case that he’s not a racist. Is Nell saying that “He can’t be racist, because he has a Black/gay partner?” I wouldn’t be surprised.

Making a movie more interested in “But but but” explanations, that doesn’t acknowledge the repeated racial reality of police shootings, is like saying “Blue Fairytales Matter.”

MPA Rating: unrated, violence, alcohol abuse, profanity

Cast: Brian Geraghty, Sharon Leal, Chiké Okonkwo, Edwina Findley Dickerson, Bethany Joy Lenz, Charles Robinson and Wayne Brady

Credits: Scripted and directed by Michael Nell. A Kandoo release.

Running time: 1:23

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