THE BLIND SIDE
Director: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Quinton Aaron, Tim McGraw, Jae Head, Lily Collins, Ray McKinnon, Kim Dickens, Adriane Lenox, Kathy Bates
MPAA Rating: (for one scene involving brief violence, drug and sexual references)
Running Time: 2:06
Release Date: 11/20/09
Review by Mark Dujsik
There's a moment in The Blind Side that sort of solidified the film in my mind as a bit more than it seems. In the scene, Sandra Bullock's Leigh Anne Touhy, who has taken in a homeless, undereducated African-American teenager who goes to her kids' school, is having lunch with her rich, WASP friends, and one of them bluntly says, "Is this some kind of white guilt thing?"
How often in movies do we see a well-to-do white person help a person of color overcome their problems? How many of those question the motivation of the "savior" and what their actions mean in a larger context? Off the top of my head, I can't think of any.
Whereas a lot of movies with similar narratives are preachy, cloying, and sometimes offensively condescending to the character they're trying to celebrate, The Blind Side is surprisingly sensitive and fair to its subject. Perhaps it's because the kid is Michael Oher, who was drafted into the NFL this year (For a display of my lack of professional sports knowledge, I didn't know it was based on a true story until a clip of the draft), and there's no way to deny that Oher's success is entirely his own. The film never tries to give credit to anyone else, and it actually allows the others to seriously consider if some of the things they've done are in his best interest or for themselves.
Oher is played by Quinton Aaron as a young kid who only occasionally answers when spoken to and keeps entirely to himself. The man he's living with places his son and Michael in a Tennessee Christian high school, under the presumption that Michael can get his grades up and help the school's athletic teams. Oher seems a master in the center position in basketball, but it's not until later that the coach (Ray McKinnon) think he'd be good at football as well.
One night, Leigh Anne, her husband (Tim McGraw), and two kids (Jae Head and Lily Collins) spot Michael walking down the street in the rain wearing only shorts and a polo. They stop, and she asks where he's staying tonight. He doesn't know. She tells him he's coming home with them. Leigh Anne is not the kind of woman to request; she demands.
The Touhys give Michael a place to sleep and provide for him like a member of the family—food, clothes, and even a truck to celebrate his driver's license. Leigh Anne wants nothing in return except for him to start talking. At first, the most she gets is that he doesn't like being called "Big Mike." She starts calling him Michael and insists everyone else in the family does as well.
It's a completely selfless act, and Michael, who was taken away from his drug-addicted mother (Adriane Lenox) when he was a boy and has run away from every foster home he's ever been in to attempt to return to his mom, grows—not because of the truck and the new clothes, but because people for once seem to genuinely care about his well being. His grades get better because his teachers don't write him off as stupid and try to understand how he learns. He starts talking more, and when the film last sees him, wandering a college campus, he struts, greeting those around him. He is finally in control of his life.
For being a biography of a professional football player, there is very little of the sport on display, because this isn't a movie about football. It's about a young kid who happens to be good at football developing into an adult. Writer/director John Lee Hancock's focus is so determined in this regard that even the football elements relate to his progression.
While Michael's government educational scores are low in most respects, his "protective instinct" level is incredibly high. The coach, more concerned with the basics of coaching and assuming Michael will succeed, doesn't realize this. So Leigh Anne interrupts practice to explain how the team is like his family, and he is the kind of man to protect his family. She's not the kind of woman to tell him this in private; she calls the coach's cell phone in the middle of a game to tell him how his strategy is failing.
The film works in its own simple way because we believe and connect to these characters, and just like that moment over lunch started setting the film apart for me, the moment Michael plays his first game displays how involving it is. It sneaks up on you, with its focus on characters and smartly playing the material, but the result is that we're concerned about how Michael will do (me especially, since the film assumes its audience will know who Oher is, while I did not).
The film has its flaws. It's as much if not more about Leigh Anne's role in Oher's life than Oher himself, especially near the end (The last shot in the narrative proper of Leigh Anne smiling at a job well done feels most dishonest), and it can't help but slip into "savior" mode in these moments.Still, there's a pivotal sequence in The Blind Side after an NCAA representative puts the idea in Oher's mind that the Tuohys have been manipulating him for their own ends. The slightly veiled accusation doesn't just affect him, but it makes them start to wonder just how sincere their motivations and actions are. After seeing so much similar fare, it's refreshing to see a film where the characters investigate and, as a result, the film itself becomes self-reflective of such issues.
Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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