Friday, November 20, 2009

The Blind Side
Beauty And The Brother, Way Down South

Quentin Aaron as Michael Oher and Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy in "The Blind Side", based on a true story.
the film is directed by John Lee Hancock.  
Warner Brothers

By Omar P.L. Moore/
Friday, November 20, 2009

John Lee Hancock directs "The Blind Side", a film based on the true story of a young black homeless man whose football-playing talents are honed by a white conservative family in the Deep South.  Leigh Anne Tuohy basically adopted Michael Oher, all but an orphan in Memphis, Tennessee, and here she's energetically represented by Sandra Bullock, who does a great job as the flamboyant Southern belle, possessing charm, sass, confidence and a wardrobe of very tight-fitting clothing.  (Whether true to the facts the character's tight outfits are sexy yet extremely odd for the confines of this specific film.)  Nonetheless, it's Leigh Anne's way or the highway, and her compliant husband (Tim McGraw) has little to say about it: the saying goes that you have to let the lady win -- and -- as a southern U.S. congressman said recently while debating healthcare -- that's just the way it is.

Mr. Hancock follows the axiom about letting the lady prevail but unfortunately it's to his and the film's detriment as Ms. Tuohy (no doubt vital to Mr. Oher's real-life revitalization) is the primary focal point of "The Blind Side" and not Mr. Oher, confidently played by newcomer Quenton Aaron.  We stare at Mr. Aaron but the film doesn't allow us to see what makes his character tick.  White characters constantly talk around and about Mr. Oher as if he's an "exotic" oddity or stick insect -- true, he stands out as a hulking figure in an all-white neighborhood -- but his voice is largely subdued.  Worse yet, any self-expression or introspection by the character Mr. Aaron cultivates is abruptly compromised by the director's visual stylizations and editing by Mark Livolsi.  Mr. Hancock's script is based on Michael Lewis' book Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, but it's the script that needs an evolution of its own.

"The Blind Side" has an uneasy mix of white liberal guilt and piety juxtaposed with a gutsy, flagrant incorrectness that's both real and infuriating, especially when illustrating white racist stereotypes of black men as angry, sullen and violent, and when displaying blighted neighborhoods teaming with unemployed and "dangerous" black men.  The problem is that this is all that is shown.  There's no in-betweens as the film is trapped in Hollywood's gift-wrapped cliche box.  (A hectoring black woman also gives Mr. Oher little respite.  Alas, the deck is stacked.)  All the energy spent showcasing the rough environments and white fears could have been spent shedding more light and depth on Mr. Oher's character. 

While there's good scene-stealing from Jae Head as the Tuohy's young son SJ and a parade of cameos from American college football's most legendary coaches, "The Blind Side" is sadly confined to convention.  Ms. Bullock, who finally has a role of weight this year after two vacuous 2009 films ("The Proposal" and "All About Steve") evokes a strength and fearlessness of character in Ms. Tuohy, something belied by the fear she initially expresses about her super-sized new addition.  If Leigh Anne can charge headlong into an unsafe neighborhood (ala Ethan Hawke's ridiculous nighttime saunter solo into a South Central L.A. gang area in "Training Day") then why so apprehensive at the start?  (By the way, I can't help but think of Ms. Bullock in her great role in "Crash" where she played a bitterly racist and frustrated Angeleno.  The anger and passion of that role is tempered here but no less indelible as a brittle but warm-hearted figure.)

All in all, it's too bad that the true story of Mr. Oher didn't get the meat on its bones it richly deserved.  Just when it seems that "The Blind Side" reminds you of films like "The Green Mile" or "The Legend Of Bagger Vance", films where the black main character acts as a mystical savior to the southern white Americans who have employed or befriended him, Mr. Hancock's film becomes more a sports story than a pure human interest story, though sport is more than hinted at in the film's opening prologue about NFL quarterback Joe Theismann's gruesome injury at the hands of defensive linebacker Lawrence Taylor during ABC's "Monday Night Football" in 1985, which is a prologue you should be warned about.  (If you want to prepare yourself for it now, just type "Theismann" and "Taylor" in a YouTube search, click on "Lawrence Taylor hit" and brace yourself.)

Like Gabourey Sidibe of "Precious" fame, Mr. Aaron plays a black character central to the story.  In "Precious" we see and feel what the title character is thinking and feeling but in "The Blind Side" we never really do, as we almost always get Ms. Tuohy's point of view of Mr. Oher, which does both characters and the audience a disservice.  I wish that the journey that Mr. Oher took, however true, was more fulfilling dramatically than the real-life footage that comes late on, but by then it's far, far too late.

With: Lily Collins, Kathy Bates, Ray McKinnon, Adriane Lenox, Catherine Dyer, Kim Dickens, Brian Hollan and Melody Weintraub.

"The Blind Side" is ratd PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for one brief scene involving violence, drug and sexual references.  The film's running time is two hours and three minutes.