Thursday, November 19, 2009
Review: "The Blind Side"
I suspect that "The Blind Side" has been Hollywooded up. But the result is such a genuinely touching and sincere movie, audiences won't mind.
The film is based on a football book by Michael Lewis that mostly concerned itself with the evolution of the left tackle into one of the key player positions in the modern NFL. Writer/director John Lee Hancock -- who made the excellent baseball movie "The Rookie" -- uses Lewis' source material for sentiment rather than smash mouth action.
"Blind Side" tells the true story (with a few details changed) of Michael Oher, a black street kid who was taken in by a well-to-do white Memphis family. Through their help and his own perseverance, he gets his life in order, starts to make decent grades at school, and draws national attention for his raw prowess on the football field.
The Touhy clan is one of those Southern families where the mother hen, Leigh Anne, rules the roost. She's played with spit and verve by Sandra Bullock. When she spots her son's gargantuan schoolmate walking in the freezing night rain, she insists that her husband Sean (Tim McGraw) pull over and they put him up for the night on their couch.
As sure as sunshine, the boy everyone calls "Big Mike" is soon living with them, and eventually becomes part of the family. Michael -- who speaks few words, but says enough to convey that he doesn't like being called "Big Mike" -- is played by Quinton Aaron in an understated but emotionally rich performance.
Michael has been abandoned by virtually every person he's ever known; his father was murdered, and his mother is a vagabond drug addict. So when he's brought into this supportive environment where the worst misbehavior consists of eating Thanksgiving dinner in front of the TV, it seems strange and disquieting to him.
Michael's relationship with young S.J. Touhy is a hoot, with Jae Head stealing scenes left and right as the tiny brother.
At one point the Touhys hire a tutor named Miss Sue (Kathy Bates) to help Michael with his grades, and she confesses to them that she's a Democrat. "Who'd have thought we'd have a black son before we knew a Democrat?" Sean ponders. It's a humorous comment on how people, even good ones, reflexively insulate themselves from those who are different from them.
The football stuff comes fairly late in the movie's game. Although the coach of the school -- which is private, Christian and lily-white -- had pushed to enroll Michael, he must work until his grades are good enough to play.
Despite Michael's mammoth size and natural athletic ability, he struggles at first on the gridiron. The coach (Ray McKinnon) dubs him a marshmallow. But Leigh Anne knows that the man-child's instincts are protective rather than aggressive. When Michael is moved to left tackle, whose job is to guard the quarterback's blind side, he soon becomes an unstoppable force that draws the attention of college coaches across the nation.
We know the story turns out happily, since the real Michael Oher was drafted in the NFL's first round this past summer and can be seen starting for the Baltimore Ravens on any given Sunday.
But knowing the outcome doesn't diminish the emotional punch. Like drawing up a football play, it's the execution that really matters, and "The Blind Side" snaps to smartly.