Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Oscar Pandering Season (2009) Opened With Sandra Bullock's Successful Grab For Best Actress In The Blind Side!

The Good: Good characters, Good acting, Good heartwarming/inspiring story
The Bad: Entirely predictable and in some ways passe.
The Basics: Clever and heartwarming, The Blind Side is a character-driven story that shows just how powerful it can be for people to help those less fortunate.

For those who do not follow my many reviews, each year, there is a time I less-than-lovingly call Oscar Pandering Season. That is the time of year when the studios release the films to the short-attention spanned voters of the Academy in the attempt to get movies nominated for the big awards for Oscar season. Don't believe me? Look at recent nominees; all five of them were released in December. It's a lazy practice from a bloated system (for my money, three of 2009’s should have been: Watchmen, Defiance, and The Soloist - though my wife was honestly gunning for Star Trek to get a nomination) and in 2009 and this year, the Thanksgiving and beyond fare does appear to be continuing the trend, rather than bucking it. Hoping, apparently, to get her first serious look for Best Actress - she appeared as part of the massive ensemble for the Best Picture, Crash (reviewed here!) - Sandra Bullock delivered a powerhouse performance in The Blind Side. And it worked.

The Blind Side is an inspirational dramatic story with a theatrical preview trailer which was far too revealing, but that adequately prepared the viewer for exactly what type of movie it was going to be. Based upon real events and a book, it is worth issuing my usual disclaimer; this is a review solely of the film, not the book or reality.

Driving home with her children, Leigh Anne Touhy notices a giant young man walking in the rain. Appalled that he does not have so much as a coat, she pulls over and offers him a ride. Having nowhere to go, the young man, Michael, is taken in by Leigh Anne and her husband, Sean. Michael, it seems, is woefully neglected by the public education system and is homeless. Leigh Anne insists on taking him in - despite the stares from her neighborhood society friends - and bettering his life.

As Michael learns to read and develop other skills, Leigh Anne encourages him to take up other interests, including sports. Playing off his love and loyalty for his new family Leigh Anne finds the key to unlocking Michael's potential as an offensive tackle and soon he is excelling both in school and on the playing field. But even as he moves up there, Leigh Ann and Sean come to realize what a blessing improving Michael's life has been to their entire family.

The Blind Side is an appropriately inspiring story with a decent reinforcement of American social mobility and the benefits of family values. In some ways, it is exactly That Kind Of Movie. I'm not one for sports movies and The Blind Side minimizes the sports aspect in favor of the human drama of the struggle of Michael learning both in terms of education and how to love his new family. But the drama of The Blind Side is balanced between Michael's story and that of Leigh Anne and her growth from a sheltered, privileged housewife to a woman who sees the value of helping others more directly than just through charities and the like.

The reason The Blind Side works as well as it does is that it is less of the "ethnic mismatch" drama that the trailers originally made it out to be and it almost never treads into the realm of melodrama. Instead, the film develops at a smart pace with the character focus being retained above plot contrivances. So, even though Leigh Anne ends up in the ghetto confronting less-savory people from Michael's past, the conflict is retained as a family one, not as a fight between rich and poor or white and black. The emphasis on taking the personal risk for the benefit to - for lack of a better term - the soul of those who do random acts of kindness makes for a compelling drama.

And this truly is Sandra Bullock's dramatic opus. While there is ample evidence that she can do comedic and she can pull off cute, but John Lee Hancock - who adapted the book and directed The Blind Side - and the studio know exactly what they are doing with releasing this film now. Sandra Bullock illustrates serious dramatic chops with her delivery of lines that could be campy or melodramatic in a less professional actor's hands. Instead, Bullock plays Leigh Anne as smart, internally powerful and with a dignity that comes from more than just her economic station in life. And having seen a lot of films these days that are supposedly great, but fall flatter in my reckoning, Sandra Bullock deserves some serious credit for maintaining her accent throughout the film. As simple as it seems to be, few actors these days actually manage to hold their character's accent consistently throughout a production, but Bullock does it wonderfully.

The real surprise on the acting front is not how well Tim McGraw supports Bullock's performance as Sean, but rather how well Quinton Aaron develops the role of Michael. Aaron is clearly a gifted actor in that one assumes he began filming at (or above) the level of articulation Michael reaches by the climax of the film. As a result, Aaron makes plausible the transformation of the mumbling, numb teenager into the young man who stands proud and plays hard. Of course, Aaron is well-cast as a young person who would be an offensive tackle, but the real strength of Aaron as Michael is in the way he presents himself in the dramatic moments of the film and slowly develops the character into a more confident and articulate young man. The fact that he holds his own opposite Sandra Bullock with her dramatic stare and intense deliveries of lines is a credit to the young actor.

And while much of The Blind Side is truly a rags to richest story that is very typical, what makes it work so well is that it is both well-written (it has some memorable one-liners and Bullock is able to take some cliche moments and play them almost tongue-in-cheek to sell the audience on them) and it actually focuses a decent amount on the idea of social responsibility. As such, Leigh Anne's role is more than just a nurturing position that helps transform Michael from rags to riches, but one that develops the broader concept of those who have do a greater social benefit by making ripples by helping when it is so easily within their means. Leigh Anne's arc illustrates how it benefits the spirit to benefit the less fortunate and the strength of her family is multiplied by the acts of kindness to Michael as opposed to diminished by it.

In short, anyone who likes inspirational dramatic stories will find something to enjoy about The Blind Side, especially those who are not predisposed toward sports movies. Incorrectly billed more for the football aspect of it, this film is truly about the way we enrich ourselves and our society by helping others.

For other films with Sandra Bullock, please check out my reviews of:
The Proposal
28 Days


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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