Film Review: The Blind Side

2010 – 128mn – 12A

Directed by John Lee Hancock. Starring Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron.

Review by Walter Nichols

THIS week in cinemas: Sandra Bullock’s Oscar-winning performance in The Blind Side. In the film, based on a true story, Bullock plays Leigh Anne Tuohy, a caring family woman who takes in a destitute, oversized, under-educated black teenager and guides him towards becoming an academically successful football player with a bright future.

Cinema has a tradition of uplifting, inspirational true stories. But this is the rare beast where the protagonist doesn’t really evolve or grow along the journey – rather, she grows vicariously through helping someone else. Leigh Anne Tuohy is the woman Sarah Palin would like us to believe she is; she’s got the designer clothes, the perfect hair, the expensive BMW, and brims with folksy charm and wisdom. She’s a character that, paradoxically, calls for larger-than-life charisma, and this is very much the Sandra Bullock Show. It would be unfair to say her Oscar is undeserved: she’s very good, completely believable, and her timing is characteristically perfect. But it’s not the kind of performance that shines a light on unsuspected depths of the human soul; rather it’s the kind that comforts you in the ideals you already hold.

The film, however, is a different beast. It’s chest-tumpingly American: the Tuohys own a chain of Taco Bells, watch football (the US kind) on Thanksgiving, and have a Norman Rockwell book on their coffee table. The first time we see their community, it’s all jolly baseball games and manicured lawns around a cute little church. By comparison, the first time we see the black part of Memphis, we see only shacks and homeless drunks pushing carts, and therein lies the rub. The Blind Side is shamelessly simplistic, and the black characters more stereotypical than the crows from Dumbo. Michael (the teenager the Tuohys take in) is little more than a substitute pet: big, loyal, and kind. We’re even told his only previous known skill is “protective instincts”. Eliza Doolittle, at least, had a skill to learn; Michael’s journey consists only to put his (apparently inherently black) physical prowess to good, All-American use.

It doesn’t help that Hancock’s film is too slow, too lengthy, too predictable. You already know where everything is going, and it takes far too long to get there. It’s lucky it has Sandra Bullock’s presence to hold it together.

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