Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The Blind Side

No mere TV-of-the-week weepy (although the poster and trailers would have one believe otherwise), the sharpness and wit of The Blind Side have the potential to, well, blindside, you (that line surely deserves a Pulitzer). It’s surely destined to be remembered as the one that finally clinched Sandra Bullock her Oscar, after a career of lightweight hits (and Speed) but her towering performance was totally deserving of the win: the acerbic, heartfelt, fluctuating backbone of the piece. And the film has much more to offer, besides.

She plays Leigh-Anne Tuohy, wealthy southern matriarch who decides to take a chance on homeless black teen Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) and accept him into her family. Guiding him through higher education and then onto a football scholarship, Oher’s presence makes Leigh-Anne realise her own shortcomings and offers piercing insights into the nature of family and race. Eventually, Oher was to be guided, in the fashion of all great underdog stories, into the first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens.

That trite description should do nothing to cheapen the well-observed, measured, tasteful pacing of John Lee Hancock’s script and direction, however. It comes with the dreaded ‘Based on a true story’ tag but Hancock’s film for the most part defies expectation, offering a nicely barbed attack on upper-middle class southern living (Bullock’s motives for taking the boy in are refreshingly ambiguous – is it white guilt, as her friends suggest?) and surprisingly funny satirical flourishes in the portrayal of preternaturally wise youngest son, S-J (Jae Head).

Flying in the face of the secular, bewildering opening narration laying out the terms of American football’s blindside as a metaphorical notion, the film calls to mind Field of Dreams in that a movie about sport needn’t scare off a potential audience. The focus here is much more down-home and intimate, presenting an appealingly warm-hearted (if too saintly) portrayal of a family taking a chance on someone of a different race and social class. Although it surely must have glossed over the familial tensions arising from the situation (Tim McGraw’s husband and Lily Collins’ elder daughter show a bizarre kind of patience), there’s always a killer sting in the wings waiting to disarm any notion that this is merely cornball Americana (‘Who thought we’d adopt a black boy before we knew a Democrat?’)

And, in Bullock, we have our new Erin Brockovich: self-assured, suspect but with a heart as gold as her blonde highlights. That this southern belle can shout ‘Yo, Deliverance’ at a redneck heckler means the game is hers for the taking.

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