Blind Side, The (2009): Sandra Bullock Dominates Fact-Based but Shallow Interracial Drama

At 45, Sandra Bullock proves wrong the Hollywood dictum that the viable career of most American actresses is over once they reach the age of 40. This year alone, Bullock, who’s often the producer of her films, has appeared in three, vastly different pictures, “The Proposal,” a smash hit, “About Steve,” a failure, and now “The Blind Side,” a typical Disney, fact-based inspirational drama. 
It’s a pleasure to report that Bullock is not only busier than ever before, but also continues to develop as an actress, as was evident in such smaller and character parts in “Crash” and “Infamous,” though clearly her forte remains comedy, particularly screwball.
“Blind Side” is very much in the vein of “The Rookie,” John Lee Hancock’s previous uplifting sports feature for Disney. Like that film, the new one depicts the remarkably true and successful story of an underdog-outsider, in this case, all-American football star Michael Oher. 
It’s too bad that helmer Hancock, who also wrote the screenplay, based on the book “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game,” by Michael Lewis, didn’t dig deeper into the saga of an African-American Michael Oher (played by newcomer Quinton Aaron), a homeless guy when spotted on the street by rich Texas socialite Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock).   The movie is ripe with potentially interesting probing of racial, interracial and social class positions, in this case rich and powerful upper class whites coming to the aid of poor and black people.   But Hancock, who is essentially a mainstream director of conventional pictures, devotes most of his energies to the surface, to the plot, without asking too many questions about the real motivations behind the Tuohy’s honroable conduct.
As Leigh Anne’s husband Sean, Tim McGraw (“Friday Night Lights”) lends support to this enjoyable picture, which should benefit from the timing of its release, the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Warner will bow its middlebrow picture on November 20, and with some critical support and positive word-of-mouth, “Blind Side” may prove to have longer legs at the box-office than the usual.

Mixing family life and football, which are the two things Michael Oher had never experienced in his life, proves to be a winning combination in showing how these institutions are interrelated and how they can change radically a person’s life under the right circumstances.

Sticking to the format of an upbeat sports biopic, while sanitizing and sugarcoating some of the harsher facts, Hancock has delivered a well-produced, entertaining picture that’s easy to take, though at the end, you want to know more about the psycho-social dynamics of this Southern upper-class clan.
Growing up virtually abandoned in the poverty-stricken projects of Memphis, aptly called Hurt Village, Michael had had few options or opportunities. When first seen, he is wearing shorts and a t-shirt in the dead of winter.  However, a random meeting, in which he crosses paths with a feisty lady, Leigh Anne Tuohy, changes all that. Learning that the young man is one of her daughter’s classmates, Leigh Anne insists that he come out of the cold–literally.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Leigh Anne invitesMichael to stay at the Tuohy home for the night. What starts out as a gesture of kindness turns into something more complex and intriguing as Michael becomes part of the Tuohy family, despite vast differences in their backgrounds. 

Some of the events depicted on screen are too good to be true, but reportedly they all did happen. Michael becomes a member of the Tuohy family, which nurtures his abilities both on and off the football field, resulting in an inspiring story that is still unfolding today.The most interesting part of the tale is the unconventional mother-son relationship at its center. While football is the engine that propels the yarn forward, the journey that Michael and the Tuohy family go on constitutes the heart of the movie.

Michael Lewis, the author of the best-selling book “The Blind Side,” had previously focused on baseball in his bestseller “Moneyball.” Lewis stumbled on the story of Tuohys and Oher’s story by accident. Having gone to high school with Leigh Anne’s husband, Sean Tuohy, Lewis initially contacted his classmate for an article about their baseball coach. That communication eventually led to Lewis meeting Michael and learning of his relationship with the Tuohys.

The book “The Blind Side” juxtaposes Michael’s story with a look at how the position of left tackle on a football team has grown in importance, instigated by a single, unforgettable play, Lawrence Taylor’s career-ending sack of quarterback Joe Theismann, in November 1985. Assigned to protect a right-handed quarterback from what he can’t see coming, a good left tackle often earns a salary second only to the quarterback himself.

Living in his new environment, Michael faces a completely different set of values to absorb and challenges to overcome. But the impact of his presence is not one-sided. As the family helps Michael fulfill his potential, on and off the football field, he changes the Tuohys’ lives to the point where they reexamine their values and lifestyle, which result in insightful, unexpected self-discoveries.The Tuohys certainly performed a good deed by taking in Michael in such a loving and generous way. But, in turn, he brought out a side of their family that they didn’t even realize was missing. In the press notes, the real-life Leigh Anne Tuohy states, “I think Michael had a much greater impact on our lives than we did on his. You take so much in life for granted, but when Michael moved in with us, he made us realize how blessed we are. We viewed life differently after he joined our family.”

Acting-wise, the film offers Bullock one of her meatiest parts in years, and she rises to the occassion with a transformation that’s remarkable in both physical and pyschological ways.  Aided by sharp, often acerbic dialogue, Bullock, in long blonde hair and strong movement, delivers a feisty performance of a Memphis belle who knows how to get things done and is also more complex and mysterious than her facade suggests.  It’s therfore too bad that Hancock didn’t delve deep enough into Leigh Ann’es character for it would have resulted in a truly shining, Oscar-worthy turn. 

The film also benefits from the good rapport between Bullock and McGraw as her rich and gentle hubby. The supporting cast is also more than adequate. Kathy Bates commands as Michael Oher’s dedicated tutor, Miss Sue, and two young actors, Lily Collins and Jae Head, as the Tuohy children, Collins and S.J., respectively, makes the interactions within the family more interesting to behold.Well-mounted, “Blind Side” boasts polished production values, credited to a creative team that includes director of photography Alar Kivilo, Oscar-nominated production designer Michael Corenblith (“Apollo 13”), editor Mark Livolsi, costume designer Daniel Orlandi and composer Carter Burwell.


You don’t have to be a sports fan to appreciate “Blind Side.” I am not particularly interested in football or sports, and yet I found most of the story to be compelling and also engrossing. That said, like most of Hancock’s films, “Blind Side” is a blatantly populist entertainment, in which plot is all and subtext barely exists; what you see is what you get.

Cast

Leigh Anne Tuohy – Sandra Bullock
Sean Tuohy – Tim McGraw
Michael Oher – Quinton Aaron
SJ Tuohy – Jae Head
Collins Tuohy – Lily Collins
Coach Cotton – Ray McKinnon
Mrs. Boswell – Kim Dickens
Denise Oher – Adriane Lenox
Miss Sue – Kathy Bates
Credits
Warner release of an Alcon Entertainment presentation of a Gil Netter production.
Produced by Netter, Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson.
Executive producers, Molly Smith, Timothy M. Bourne, Erwin Stoff.
Co-producers, Yolanda T. Cochran, Steven P. Wegner, K.C. Hodenfield.
Directed, written by John Lee Hancock, based on the book “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game” by Michael Lewis.
Camera, Alar Kivilo.
Editor, Mark Livolsi.
Music, Carter Burwell; music supervisor, Julia Michaels; production designer, Michael Corenblith; art director, Thomas Minton; set decorator, Susan Benjamin; costume designer, Daniel Orlandi; sound, Mary Ellis; supervising sound editor, Jon Johnson; football coordinator, Michael Fisher; assistant director, K.C. Hodenfield.
Casting, Ronna Kress.
MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time:126 Minutes.