The Blind Side

The Blind Side
The Blind Side
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Rating: 7.6 out of 10
Length: 129 minutes
Release Date: November 20, 2009
Directed by: John Lee Hancock
Genre: Biography / Sports / Drama


OVERVIEW – The Blind Side

Sports have often been heralded as a crucible in which man’s character is tested. Sports films often portray athletes being positively transformed by their struggle regardless of whether they are the victors or the vanquished. The athletic contest serves as the catalyst for the character’s development. “The Blind Side” inverts this centuries-old narrative device and instead uses sports as the milieu in which the change occurs, not the instigating cause. The underdog may win in this film, but the reasons for this triumph are far removed from the trick plays and unexpected comebacks usually found in the genre. Challenges are overcome on the field, but they’re born from victories in the heart.

“The Blind Side” is based on Michael Lewis’ 2006 book of the same name. It tells the true story of Memphis, Tennessee native Michael Oher’s journey from homeless teen to NFL star. Sandra Bullock rightfully takes top billing for her Oscar-winning turn as Leigh Anne Tuohy, the determined matriarch that takes Oher into her home and her family’s lives. Quinton Aaron is proficient as Michael Oher’s cinematic stand-in. The cast also features strong performances from Tim McGraw and Lily Collins. The ensemble is artfully directed by John Lee Hancock.

Despite the lovely themes of the film, it actually opens with a gruesome scene. It uses the infamous 1985 footage of the New York Giants’ Lawrence Taylor inadvertently snapping the leg of the Washington Redskins’ Joe Theismann. As Theismann’s unfortunate appendage bends at an unnatural angle, Bullock offers a bit of voice-over exposition. Her monologue explains the state of modern American football and how Oher came to play such a significant role.

The story begins in earnest with Aaron’s somber depiction of Oher sitting uncomfortably in an NCAA investigator’s office. If the audience were unfamiliar with the film’s subject matter, it would be easy to imagine some heinous crime must have been committed to warrant such an interrogation. Aaron’s previous roles, both on and off the screen, had largely consisted of bodyguard or security work.

His physical presence is massive and imposing, but he manages to convey a trepidatious attitude opposite the investigator. His tale begins to unfold in a series of prolonged flashbacks, outlining the pivotal events in his relationship with the Tuohy family.

Bullock and McGraw play the Tuohys with a charming warmth, but they never slip into the saccharin-sweet trappings of sentimentality. McGraw is personable and approachable. The successful, educated Sean is essentially the antithesis of the misanthropic and distant father he portrayed in “Friday Night Lights.” McGraw seems to have stumbled across his ideal role, that of a parent in a football movie. Perhaps his experience as the son of a professional baseball player helps him draw out the humanity of such characters.

Bullock works slightly against type from her usual roles. This highlights her evolution as an actress. Her long career was first born by playing relatable but quirky love interests in movies such as “Speed” and “While You Were Sleeping.” She had dabbled earlier with more dramatic roles, but “The Blind Side” represents her complete metamorphosis into an actress of depth and substance. Her efforts were justly rewarded as the Academy took note and awarded her with her first Oscar win.

This isn’t John Lee Hancock’s first foray into the inspirational sports-drama field. He also directed Disney’s 2002 uplifting baseball picture, “The Rookie.” His comfort with the emotional intricacies of the genre is readily apparent. He does an exceptional job of portraying Oher as a human in need of compassion rather than as an object of pity. Hancock lets some of his minor characters espouse the tired mantras targeted at the poor and underprivileged.

These confessions only serve to highlight the absurdity of their arguments. The Tuohys, especially Leigh Anne, act as celluloid examples for how to be supportive without being dismissive. The family doesn’t simply save Oher. Instead, they offer the assistance necessary for him to become the hero of his own story.

Part of the support he’s given comes in the form of “Miss Sue” played by the unfailingly brilliant Kathy Bates. Aaron, in particular, demonstrates surprising ease acting opposite his distinguished cast mate. Bates’ rambunctious “Ole Miss” educated tutor is the ideal counterpoint to his quiet stoicism. Her performance is like the tart lemon wedge dropped into a glass of Southern sweet tea.

“The Blind Side” is an enjoyable film for nearly everyone. Only the most cynical could find fault with its themes of gracious compassion and heroic perseverance. Leigh Anne’s actions can serve as guideposts for the uncertain while Oher’s example inspires those ensnared by the pernicious web of circumstance. These feats are the manifestation of humanity’s greatest strength: the human heart.

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