Sunday, February 21, 2010

Film Review - The Blind Side

Film #27 of 2010 - The Blind Side

The Blind Side starts with probably one of the most gruesome sports clips of all time, Lawrence Taylor's tackle that snapped Joe Thiesmann's leg and ended his career. The narrator, Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) explains the action on the screen, and why Lawrence Taylor may have single-handedly, at that moment, made the left tackle one of the most important and highest paid positions in football, after quarterback. I didn't expect a film as seemingly "harmless" as I perceived The Blind Side to be to begin with such a stomach-churning, violent clip, and that was just the first of a few surprises I experienced while watching the film.

Directed by John Lee Hancock, The Blind Side is the true story of NFL football player Michael Oher, who is homeless and emotionally damaged when we first meet him, but with the support and love of the Tuohy family ends up becoming a first round draft pick in the 2009 draft. After getting into a private Christian school with the help of a family friend based on his size and the promise of athletic greatness, Michael (Quinton Aaron), who has been staying with this friend, finds himself homeless until one day when he encounters the Tuohys while he is walking without a coat in the freezing rain. After finding out he doesn't have a place to stay, Leigh Ann insists he stays with them, where he continues to live for the next two years. During these two years, he becomes a member of the family, and Leigh Anne, along with husband Sean (Tim McGraw), daughter Collins (Lily Collins) and son S.J. (Jae Head) grow to treat him as a family member, helping him with his academics and the sport of football, which he has never played in his life.

I went into this film with a few preconceived notions, and a couple of them were true, like, I had heard that The Blind Side is basically a big screen Lifetime movie. It actually kind of was, if I have to be truthful. A lot of things came pretty easily, and one has to believe that there had to have been more conflict in the real situation than was portrayed on the screen. With the exception of one or two incidents, it was pretty smooth sailing for Michael and the Tuohy family. However, the flip side to this is that there's actually nothing really wrong with its simplicity; I actually really enjoyed the film at face value and thought it was uplifting, and at times poignant and funny. Hancock obviously went into this project wanting to make a feel good movie, and damned if that's not what I felt 2 hours and 10 minutes later. I'm not always looking for depth; sometimes a transparent, decently made film is good enough, and The Blind Side delivers this in spades.

Another preconception was that Sandra Bullock was going to be good, but that a lot of the accolades are going to be misguided and overblown. This assumption was half right; Bullock (who will never make my favorite actress list if there were no other actresses in the world) was great. She played the no-nonsense Leigh Anne without stooping to caricature. But, while she certainly deserves the kudos and nominations she's received, it's ridiculous to say that her performance beats one like Meryl Streep's Julia Child in Julie & Julia. She's deserving of the nomination, absolutely, but there were better performances out there this year. I do have to note, however, that I listened to a short interview with Bullock on NPR recently where she mentioned that she was reluctant to take the role because she didn't know how she could play this incredibly strong-willed woman without resorting to a "Steel Magnolias disposition", and that kind of awareness was refreshing to hear, and it turns out that she succeeded in pulling that off, quite well.

I think it's worth noting, that in a cast featuring a couple of really strong female roles, (Kathy Bates plays Michael's tutor, Miss Sue, and I'm not sure she knows how to do understated) I have to give Tim McGraw some serious credit for being really good in a role where his sole purpose could have just been to sit around shrugging his shoulders and placating his alpha dog wife, but he transcended that and actually was an enjoyable, fleshed out character, who uttered my favorite line of the film, "Who would have thought we'd have a black son before we met a Democrat?" I had to check his filmography because I had no idea he acted (and up until now he's only been in a couple of things) but given this kind of material, he's a natural and I really liked his character.

Granted, The Blind Side isn't artful film making, and if you're looking for something intellectually challenging, you might as well skip this one. However, there is truly something to be said about presenting a well made film that doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is, and also making this film full-bodied enough to make it appealing to a mass audience. If the audience I sat with while I watched this film was any indication, it's a big hit with the mainstream, and that's sometimes perfectly fine. Does it deserve an Oscar nomination for Best Picture? Probably not. There are a few other films I've seen either recently or in 2009 that could have taken its spot. But that doesn't take away from the film and the fact that it was a genuine, good film. I can always watch Fellini or Ingmar Bergman films to satisfy my inner film nerd; but finding a "Lifetime movie" like this one that I truly liked? That's a rare find indeed.

3 stars out of 5

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