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Released in cinemas in time for Thanksgiving in America last year, The Blind Side is a film that, well, blind sided pretty much everyone. Expectations were considerably less than stellar for a film that was expect to to merely do average box office and pass by largely overlooked by moviegoers but when it opened far bigger than anyone expected it became apparent that this film is far more than initially appeared, something which has only become more apparent with the film turning its surprisingly big US opening weekend of $34 million into a truly awe inspiring $250 million and counting, not forgetting that the film is also an Oscar winner, with star Sandra Bullock having taken away the Best Actress award at this year’s Academy Awards. So, why has this film been so unexpectedly successful? Like so many inspirational films before it, the fact that it tells a undeniably true story (based on the book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis) makes it something that is both relatable and all the more moving for its real life inspirations. But, does this success mean that the film itself is actually something special?
Homeless and under-educated African-American teenager Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) has precious little going for him. A gentle giant, he’s isolated at school and traumatized by the gangsters in his run-down neighbourhood. A shadow of the person he should be, it’s not until he befriends a young boy named SJ Tuohy (Jae Head) and gets taken under the wing of SJ’s mother Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) that Michael gets the help he needs to reach his true potential. The gutsy matriarch of a well-off white family, Leigh Anne is determined to help Michael overcome the adversities he faces from his family – also including adopted sister Collins (Lily Collins) and father Sean (Tim McGraw) – teachers Miss Sue (Kathy Bates) and Coach Burt Cotton (Ray McKinnon) and peers. With his new home environment and adopted family, Michael makes steady progress, and ultimately sets off on the road towards becoming an All-American sporting hero.
The Oscar that Sandra Bullock won for her performance in The Blind Side is very well deserved. Here she delivers the performance of her career, nailing the accent of her character perfectly and effectively combining heart, emotion and toughness to create a thoroughly believable and well developed character with whom we can really empathise and who really root for. She also has a very convincing and sincere motherly dynamic with co-star Quinton Aaron. In fact, pretty much the entire cast performs strongly. It should be noted, however, that only Bullock even won an Oscar here, the film as a whole not receiving any such recognition from the Academy Awards. You see, this is a film that will divide moviegoers. Some people will love it for its optimistic and positive portrayal of the world and events and lack of edge, grit and realism – these things make it a very ‘happy’ film where, aside from the last half hour, some of which seems like its from another film altogether, nothing bad happens at all, everything being completely sugar coated – while others will hate the film for the exact same reason. The sugar coated representation of reality shown here bares little in common with actual reality and such an absence of realism robs the film of genuine drama, the kind of which that could make events truly engrosssing (although people who want to forget about the real world will lap it up). Also, the focus of the film is primarily on the character of Leigh Anne – a well to do woman who almost views helping Michael like a project, even if it does grow to be much more rather than the potentially more interesting character of Michael himself. A major problem here is that Michael is too underdeveloped as a character with not enough insight being shown into his past. We only get very brief glimpses into his childhood in the form of flashbacks, the emphasis being on the flash as flashes are all we get, robbing of the crucial background that could make him so much more interesting as a character. This, in turn, makes it harder to really empathise with him, even though we can still feel happy as his life is turned around for the better. For British viewers, the American Football scenes will also hold the film back, with many viewers likely to be alienated by all the references, which will only be truly understood and appreciated by Americans and the Football scenes themselves which may be too hard to follow for those lacking an understanding of the sport, i.e. most British people. Things such as this mean that, while this film has lots of potential, it doesn’t fully deliver on it, the film never being as engaging as it could be. Nonetheless, though, the story is inspirational, that much is undeniable, and it will be hard not to be moved by it. Just remember that The Blind Side is pretty much carried by Sandra Bullock and without her it is most unlikely that it would be receiving much attention at all.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
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