Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Film Review | The Blind Side

Eyes on the Prize

by Thomas Delapa

There’s nothing like a frisky underdog sports movie to get American audiences to fetch their pom-poms and popcorn.

In the well-trod tradition of Rocky, Rudy, Hoosiers and Remember the Titans, The Blind Side takes to the field, scoring dramatic points with its true story of a young man who rose from the ghetto to fame and fortune on the gridiron.

Based on a nonfiction bestseller by Michael Lewis, The Blind Side has come out of nowhere to blitz the U.S. box-office. For a discontented nation in the grips of several seasons of recession, this is a movie that has one eye on fact and the other fixed on feel-good formula.

Writer/director John Lee Hancock’s gentle-giant of a hero is Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a.k.a. ‘Big Mike,” a burly, black 17-year-old. A virtual orphan, Mike has spent his youth in a string of Memphis foster homes. His mother is an addict. If this story were just a tall and big tale, he’d be visited one night by his fairy godmother. Instead, the withdrawn teen miraculously meets Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock), a wealthy, willful--and white--mother of two who has a soft spot for strays. She invites him to stay with her family for the night.

Were it not for the fact-based script, you’d think you were seeing things when Leigh Anne unflinchingly takes this black stranger into her lavish home and treats him like a long-lost son. After all, this is the Deep South in a racially divided city where Martin Luther King was assassinated 40 years ago. What trumps race, at least for Leigh Anne, is an unspoken sense of Christian charity. It’s largely that same motive that prompts the local gentry to permit Mike to enroll in their elite, lily-white Christian academy.

With the Obama revolution, The Blind Side’s timing is fortuitous, if not foresightful, in eyeing the evolving racial relations in the U.S. Hancock’s most observant scene has nothing to do with football. On that first night Mike sleeps on the Tuohys’ couch, he sits and marvels at the warm, well-appointed living room, finally seeing how the other half lives. On the coffee table is a book of Normal Rockwell illustrations; on its cover is the artist’s iconic portrait of the all-American WASP family at Thanksgiving dinner.

But these subtle strokes--backed by Bullock’s brassy steel-magnolia theatrics--face the odds in Hancock’s game plan, primarily his myopic commercialism and wobbly plotting. He passes the ball off to Leigh Anne’s hip-hoppy young son (Jae Head) for cloying comedy that deflates the weightier tones. By the time Mike gets around to playing football for his high school, Hitchcock fumbles again. At Mike’s first game, Hancock calls one corny trick play after another, running the game like a Mason-Dixon Marx Brothers gag.

On one side of The Blind Side is a winning story, touching and even inspiring. But it’s also penalized by a stolid, Steel Curtain-worthy performance by newcomer Quinton Aaron. Whatever the personality of the real Michael Oher, Aaron makes the Rock of Gibraltar look like a Method actor on steroids.


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