The Blind Side (2009): United States – directed by John Lee Hancock
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains mature themes, and some bad language
There are a number of things that make the first half of The Blind Side so interesting. There’s the vast cultural divide that is honestly portrayed, a divide rarely looked at in mainstream American cinema. The fact that this divide exists within American cities across the country only makes it more powerful. And then there’s Sandra Bullock’s performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy (for which she will most likely be awarded an Academy Award the day after this review is posted). Leigh Anne is a fiery, sprightly woman, surprisingly attractive and decidedly determined. Her vim and vigor is what makes the first portion of the film so engaging.
But then the football is introduced and the movie can hardly help descending into standard sports-movie mode. This is where the cliches and cheese abound. This section is not bad, as far as sports movies go, but it is a letdown. And then there is the ending, as a variety of last-minute obstacles pop up to extend the movie and “heighten” the drama.
Fortunately the first hour and a quarter of the film gives the audience some characters worth knowing and rooting for. It takes its time introducing Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a large, homeless black boy on the streets of Memphis. After a private Christian school enrolls him, the film moves on to introducing the Tuohy family. Father and husband Sean (Tim McGraw) is a successful fast food restaurant owner (Yum! Brands, with its fleet of Taco Hut’s and mainstay Pepsi, surely enjoyed being part of the film). Leigh Anne is an interior designer, and she treats her clients as forcefully as she treats everyone else. Daughter Collins (Lily Collins) is the most under-used character, though she is sweet and cute. Son S.J. (Jae Head) rounds out the family, in an annoying and overplayed role.
The opening section also introduces how the Tuohy family becomes involved with Michael’s life. The change is slow and honest, and Sean and Leigh Anne even tackle some of the difficult questions, such as “Will Michael steal everything if we let him sleep on the couch?” The film doesn’t mind tackling some of the more truthful yet politically incorrect thoughts going through the Tuohy’s minds.
The hope is always that Michael will play football. He is enormous, both height-wise and girth-wise, and looks born to play the game. The initial struggles are getting his grades high enough to be eligible. He turns out to be a dedicated student, and manages to pass. But his football skills are lacking; his coach calls him a marshmallow on the field. Here is where The Blind Side takes its first wrong turn. Leigh Anne’s speech to Michael as the team practices is the sort of cliched moment that appears inspiring but ultimately feels dishonest and forced, particularly given how the first part of the film deliberately and slowly showed each step of the story.
Michael’s leaps and bounds up the football ranks come in spurts of montage. So do his academic skills, headed up by a private tutor (Kathy Bates). These are the worst moments of the entire movie; they are too easy and whitewashed, and do not contain the same emotional impact as the earlier scenes. As Michael continues to excel athletically and academically, Leigh Anne starts to fade into the background. This is unfortunate because she is the emotional heart of the film and the most engaging character. Some of the later scenes allow her to shine once again, but the end as a whole is not as convincing as the beginning.
The first part of The Blind Side is surprisingly enjoyable. I was not expecting to appreciate it as much as I did and become so engaged in the story. The second half falls closer to the cheesy story that I expected from the plot summary, though it is not terrible; it is merely disappointing following the strong opening. The movie is inspiring, particularly as it is based on a true story (though I was not sad to see my Indianapolis Colts beat up on Oher’s Ravens during this year’s playoffs), and the movie is well-enough crafted to become truly inspiring. It is sad to think that there are many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of young men in America’s large cities who might be able to escape a life of violence if only granted the opportunity. But thanks to The Blind Side, perhaps, this issue will be discussed in many households across the country.