"The Blind Side"

When I see a movie, I try to go in without predetermined expectations. Of course there are some movies I’m more excited about than others. But I try hard not to expect a movie to be great, or even good. Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at this little song and dance, but sometimes it just isn’t possible. “Where the Wild Things Are,” for example, was so pumped up in my own head that there’s no way it could have met my expectations. (It didn’t, by the way.) And so it is with “The Blind Side.” I want nothing more than to write today about how great this movie is. Truthfully I had half this review written in my head before I even set foot in the theater, a classic critical no-no. Alas, I am resigned to a “good-not-great” review and that disappoints me immensely.

“The Blind Side” is the true-life story of Michael Oher, a poor Memphis boy who was taken in and subsequently adopted by the wealthy Tuohy family. With the support of his new family, Oher improved his grades, took to the football field, and eventually went on to a superb college career (both academically and athletically). He was the first round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in last year’s NFL Draft and has become quite the inspirational story.

On the bright side, “The Blind Side’s” main characters are excellent. Sandra Bullock has long been on my, “Do not see (insert name) in a movie ever, under any circumstances” list for some years now. I just can’t stand her. But as Leigh Ann Tuohy, the driving force behind the family and their adoption of Oher, Bullock is strong and likeable. Sure, she’s a serious nuisance to anyone who stands in her way, but she portrays the mother looking out for her kids to a tee and I can definitely see why Bullock has received some Oscar buzz. And it’ll be hard for most to resist Jae Head, the youngest Tuohy who, in the vein of Hayden Panettiere in “Remember the Titans,” provides some honest comic relief in a film that would sorely miss it otherwise.

Likewise, I imagine somewhere around 15 million people came out of this film saying, “Wow, who knew Tim McGraw could actually act a little?” As Tuohy patriarch Sean, McGraw holds his own and brings some balance to Bullock’s intensity. I’m willing to give Quinton Aaron (Oher) and Lily Collins (sister Collins Tuohy) a pass in the acting department as both are extremely inexperienced actors who do an admirable job here. Aaron in particular is asked to carry the film on numerous occasions and truly shines in most of said scenes. A refined actor he is not, as of yet, and there are a couple of cringe-inducing moments here and there, but overall Aaron steps up to the plate and delivers.

The rest of the cast, however, are another story. Director John Lee Hancock is a guy who likes to put relatively unknown actors into important parts and draw something more out of them. There’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, that’s the way the movie business works, really. Obviously you can’t cast well known stars for every role, but a good movie usually has better to work with than “Blind Side.” Sure, you’ve got two well-respected actresses in Kathy Bates and Kim Dickens but both seem to float through weak performances. Most of this supporting cast comes across as a bunch of extras that were inexplicably given speaking parts. Coach Cotton (Ray McKinnon), in particular, is atrocious. ATROCIOUS. McKinnon should have his SAG card revoked IMMEDIATELY.

Too often I see the budget for a film and think, “How in the world did THAT cost 70 million dollars to make?” Rarely, however, will you hear me say a studio should have spent more than it did to complete a film. This is one of those rare times. “The Blind Side” reportedly cost a meager 30 million dollars to make. Unfortunately I feel like you can see where the studio cut costs. Whether it’s the shoddy state of the supporting actors or the lack of road jerseys for Oher’s high school teams, the film is littered with what I would consider corner-cutters that hamper its overall impact. They are small issues, to be sure, but in the end I think that’s even more frustrating than major issues. It leaves me feeling that, with just a little more support from the studio, this could have been a GREAT film. I am left to wonder how much better this would be had the studio spent a little more money, which would have been well-justified given the remarkable reception the public has given this movie (and it truly is REMARKABLE for a movie to gross more in its third week of release than in its first).

All told, “The Blind Side” is a good movie that people should see. It is an incredible story and Hancock (for better or worse) never allows it to be anything but positive and upbeat. (Again, because of how shallow Hancock takes the subject matter, I am left to wonder how much better it would be had he taken on a little more depth.) It is entertaining and touching and illustrates what a difference being a good person can make in a way that few Hollywood movies do these days. It just could have been a lot better and leaves me with that disappointing feeling of “what could have been.” B.

On a personal note, there is a lesson here for Sherwood Pictures, the makers of such films as “Facing the Giants” and “Fireproof,” on how to make a Christian-themed movie that still holds up in quality to the rest of the mainstream releases. I have, at times, waged an unspoken war against these films because while their intentions are good, their end product is embarrassing compared to what Hollywood has to offer. It bothers me that we as Christians (which the majority of my would-be readers are) rush out to support these films even though, from a quality standpoint, they are at best mediocre and at worst, terrible. I don’t know John Lee Hancock’s background but as a Christian, I would say there are undeniably Christian ideas being presented here in a way that is more example-driven as opposed to cramming God down the viewer’s throats. It isn’t watered down, it isn’t empty, it’s just not so explicit as to draw the “safe for the whole family,” Christian tag that our little community seems to treasure so dearly. I hope that the enormous success of “The Blind Side” (having so far grossed $150 million dollars domestically) will push Sherwood and their contemporaries to reach for new, quality heights that will bring in audiences outside of the Lifeway Christian Bookstore crowd.

That last paragraph may draw some flak,