From the trailer to The Blind Side,
I knew two things. One, I'd seen the entire plot of the
movie and two, I was going to bawl like a baby. It turns
out that I was more than half-right about John Lee Hancock's
film. What I never guessed was how impressed I would be
with the whole thing.
Mostly that's because Hancock could have
easily made this schmaltzy, and for the most part resists.
Covering two years in the life of now-pro football player
Michael Oher, The Blind Side takes its cues from
his adoptive mother, Leigh Anne Touhy (Sandra Bullock).
She narrates - lightly - and really drives the movie.
When the story begins, Oher (Quinton Aaron)
has been bounced around from foster home to foster home.
Because of his quiet geniality, which borders on being just
shut down, combined with incredible athletic ability, the
father of one of his friends tries to get him into the exclusive
Wingate Christian Academy. Coach Cotton (Ray McKinnon) goes
to bat for the obvious reasons, but it is his impassioned
and to us obviously loaded speech about Christian duty that
gets Oher admitted.
And that's one of the few moments that
Hancock plays heavy-handedly, yet so purposefully and with
a wink to the audience. By slipping that message through
as an almost insincere moment, he's built the foundation
for his theme.
That really takes off once Leigh Anne realizes
that "Big Mike," as everyone calls him, has no home and
no support system. A mother of two kids at the school, Leigh
Anne takes Big Mike in for Thanksgiving. Wisely, Hancock
doesn't pretend that Leigh Anne is a saint. She frets over
whether or not she'll wake up in the morning to find her
valuables stolen. But she's driven by a sense that this
kid needs help that no one else seems willing to give.
A few teachers mean well. After fishing
one of Oher's poems out of the trash, the science teacher
(Kim Dickens) realizes that even though he's tested terribly
poorly, he's listening and learning; he just has trouble
articulating it in writing. (My one complaint is that of
all people, the English teacher is the jerk that won't come
on board and accept that Oher isn't a complete waste of
But it takes Leigh Anne's drive to make
changes in Big Mike's life, the first of which comes by
treating him with dignity when he finally has the courage
to admit he hates being called Big Mike. It's all played
subtly by Bullock, and that comes as another big surprise.
For what is obviously a bid for Oscar talk, it's a welcome
subtle performance. She has no big breakdown moments, just
a consistent portrayal of quiet strength and decency, even
if her Memphis accent isn't quite as consistent.
The beats of the story come pretty much
as you might expect, but never work so hard at tugging the
heart-strings that you feel manipulated. The truth is it
plays truthfully, right down to the good-natured suffering
of Leigh Anne's husband Sean (Tim McGraw). It may seem like
a bit of fantasy, but in addition to showing the story of
a good kid getting out of bad circumstances, The Blind
Side also portrays a strong marriage based on things
like love and respect.
that's easy when you're as successful as the Tuohys obviously
are, but Hancock keeps dropping little reminders that Oher's
presence in their home reminds them how easily it could
all disappear. It's not a cliché or an accident that waking
up on Thanksgiving morning, Michael sees a coffee table
book on Norman Rockwell's paintings "The Four Freedoms"
with the cover being "Freedom From Want."
a scene that's alien to him, with a drug-addicted mother,
half-brothers spread all over the city, and friends that
aren't going to make it out alive. Yet it takes his presence
to remind the Tuohys - and maybe more of us than we'd care
to admit - that they already have that and take it for granted.
Despite a PG-13 rating - likely because
it doesn't shy away from depicting the life Oher escaped
-- The Blind Side is a family movie about people
doing the right thing. It's the kind of movie that many
conservatives claim Hollywood doesn't make. Everyone
else might consider it fantasy.
Maybe. Except it's truer than most - check
out the short feature on Oher below, made while he was still
isn't brilliant film-making, but it's heartfelt and decent.
And yes, you may shed a few tears, but at least you'll come
by them honestly.