Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Blind Side (2009)

Director: John Lee Hancock                            Writer: John Lee Hancock
Film Score: Carter Burwell                              Cinematography: Alar Kivilo
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Quinton Aaron, Tim McGraw and Kim Dickens

There’s something about these kinds of films that doesn’t sit well with me. First of all, I certainly enjoy watching them. After all, who wouldn’t? The true story of a young person who defies the odds and becomes a success with the aid of selfless people helping him is incredibly inspiring. When all is said and done, however, I’m left feeling empty inside. While the story is good, there is an overt sentimentality that makes the plot a little too obvious for this to be a really great film. The Blind Side is a semi-biographical tale of an inner-city boy from Memphis named Michael Oher who went on to play football at the University of Mississippi and eventually the NFL. The film is based on the book by Michael Lewis called The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game. In the book he weaves two narrative threads together, the first about Lawrence Taylor, who made the necessity of protecting the quarterback’s blind side a priority after breaking Joe Theismann’s leg. The second is the story of Oher. Sandra Bullock begins the film with a narration of Lewis’s first point, punctuated by the footage of Theismann and Taylor in a Monday night game, the last of Theismann’s career.

Oher is played by Quinton Aaron in his first film role. The story begins with Aaron as a homeless boy living on the couch of his friend’s family. Omar Dorsey visits Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis in order to get his son in because of his sports abilities, but when coach Ray McKinnon sees Aaron’s enormous size and quickness on the basketball court he wants him to attend the school as well. With no continuity in school or academic success, Aaron’s grades are virtually nonexistent, but with McKinnon pushing he gets him enrolled. There he makes friends with the tiny boy, Jae Head, and eventually draws the notice of his mother, a rich Memphis socialite played by Sandra Bullock. She brings the boy into their home and her husband, Tim McGraw, daughter Lily Collins, and Head, make an instant family for Aaron. At first Aaron’s participation in football is simply an obvious one because of his size, but McKinnon notices something different about the boy. While most neglected kids display a repressed anger once they get on the football field, this is utterly absent from Aaron. What Bullock knows, however, is that Aaron is in the ninetieth percentile for protective instinct, and when she gives him the goal of protecting his quarterback, suddenly Aaron becomes great.

The rest of the film, I hate to say, is an obvious progression of attempting to help Aaron become successful and combating racism. He struggles in his first football games, and then gradually becomes an all-state tackle. He needs to get his grades up in order to be eligible to play college ball and Kathy Bates is brought in to tutor him, with obvious results. Later, young Jae Head becomes his virtual agent when the parade of college coaches comes to his door. Through it all the bond between Bullock and Aaron becomes closer and, just to throw in a bit of suspense, the NCAA investigates why he decides to go to Old Miss, suspecting that Bullock is simply using her altruism to field players for her old alma matter. Nevertheless, the film is an obvious favorite for its uplifting message and was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture. The only other nomination was for Bullock as best actress and she won over an incredibly weak field that year. For anyone who has seen films like Rudy or We Are Marshall, you’ll have a good idea of what this film is. That is not to denigrate the story of Michael Oher, who is still playing professional ball in his home state of Tennessee, but The Blind Side is a film that fits into that inspirational, if predictable, genre of sports stories that has become prevalent in recent years. I very much enjoyed the story, but the film as a film . . . not so much.

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