The Blind Side

(2009) ** Pg-13
128 min. Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution. Director: John Lee Hancock. Cast: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, Lily Collins, Ray McKinnon.

/content/films/3634/1.jpgThe Blind Side is sure-fire popular entertainment, reassuringly warm and cuddly fare for the holiday season. Social blights are faced down and told their place, underdogs become winners, and a black man becomes part of a white family. Surely recession-era America will turn out in droves for this cinematic version of a hug. But should they?

Adapted from Michael Lewis’ book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, this Warner Brothers picture merges the uplifting social drama with the uplifting sports drama (it’s smoothly directed by John Lee Hancock, who did The Rookie for Disney). It’s also a cutesy family comedy, with a precocious, sassy kid constantly cracking wise. The Blind Side mines much of its incident from Lewis’ book, and generally sticks to the facts: homeless African-American youth Michael Oher (newcomer Quinton Aaron) was blessed to get a break from a tony Christian school and then from the Tuohy family, whose spitfire matriarch Leigh Anne takes him into her heart.

As played by Sandra Bullock, Leigh Anne is a woman you really want to believe exists (and apparently she does). Republican and Christian, Leigh Anne sees something wrong and is compelled to set it right; when she stops on the road to see if Michael--who she has never met--is alright, she’s the Good Samaritan, straight out of the Bible. From that moment forward, Leigh Anne is a fierce lioness doing whatever is necessary to protect her cub. Naturally, Bullock brings her comic timing to bear on the character’s quick-thinking decisiveness and snappy rejoinders.

The screenplay is savvy enough to drop in a number of scenes that lightly counter a hagiographic approach: Leigh Anne wonders at first if Michael might steal from her, her friends ask her, “Is this some sort of white guilt thing?” and the film’s climax revolves around the question of whether or not the Tuohys intended, consciously or not, to exploit Oher or subvert NCAA policy. But the confused depiction of Oher is what undermines the film’s credibility and ultimately keeps The Blind Side from being palatable.

The educational system has failed Oher: he’s a kid with grades in the basement but, we’re told, learning potential. But the movie consistently paints him as having a lot more heart than brains, and his only earthly desires are to have a family and a pickup truck (if not for that truck, he might as well be a monk, or perhaps an alien). Even at his most angry—in a football scene taken from the book—Oher maintains his stoical placidity of expression, lest we not be able to handle a black man who feels anger.

In an example of laughable screenwriting B.S., the film claims Oher scored in the 98th percentile in “Protective Instincts” (they test for that?), and he’s not able to achieve on the field until Leigh Anne tells him the other team are bad guys trying to hurt his white family. As Michael in turn teaches the Tuohys the true meaning of family, he becomes the archetype Spike Lee acidly called the "super-duper magical Negro," who lowers his face and steps aside to let the white star have her Oscar clip.

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 3/23/2009

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Warner's A/V presentation of The Blind Side is typically top-notch, accurately representing the director's intent (a somewhat artifical, color-corrected look). The colors are indeed vibrant and detail and textures are solid, and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix can be considered definitive, giving this sports-inflected drama its all, particularly in the gridiron scenes.

The bonus features might have shown a bit more foresight in spotlighting soon-to-be Best Actress Sandra Bullock (in, say, a commentary), but nevertheless provide some context for the film's "reality." "The Real Michael Oher: An Exclusive Interview" (10:02, HD) gets Oher on the record, though his comments here aren't remotely provocative and are synced to film clips that infer his story was told with total accuracy.

"Acting Coaches: Behind The Blind Side" (4:52, HD) will please sports buffs with its survey of the real coaches put on film. Participants include writer/director John Lee Hancock, executive producer Molly Smith, former Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer, Ray McKinnon, former University of South Carolina head coach Lou Holtz, former Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt, Jae Head, former Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville, Tim McGraw, Sandra Bullock, former LSU head coach Nick Saban, and former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron.

"The Story of Big Quinton" (13:40, HD) tells the tale of newcomer Quinton Aaron, who appears along with Hancock, producer Broderick Johnson, Quinton's aunt Jannie McGoogan, friend/theater director Jomo Kellman, Quinton's aunt Mary Martin, Quinton's cousin Teresa Aaron, Quinton's uncle Sylvester Martin, Quinton's cousin Shinasia Aaron, executive producer Tim Bourne, boss/friend Roy Winston, co-worker/friend Wallace "Country" Owens, Quinton's cousin Derrick Smith, producer Andrew Kosove, trainer Eric Ciano, nutritionist Sasha Spencer, Bullock, Smith and McKinnon.

Three "Sideline Conversations: Sandra Bullock and Leigh Anne Tuohy" segments (5:11, HD) and eight "Sideline Conversations: Director John Lee Hancock & Author Michael Lewis" (27:36, HD) offer further friendly perspectives on how the film lives up to the true story, or at least Lewis' book.

Last up are four "Deleted Scenes" (7:07, HD) that wouldn't have added anything to the film, but are nevertheless welcome as behind-the-scenes bonuses. Only the Deleted Scenes appear on the DVD edition; everything else here is a Blu-ray exclusive.

All in all, Warner's package should please fans of this feel-good picture.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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