The Blind Side is an attempt to adopt the novel by the same name into a feature length film, one which tells the story of the real-life story of Michael Oher, a football player who wound up being selected in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Why is this a story worth telling? Well, for one, the story is inspirational. Hollywood loves inspiration. Second, it fits nicely into the rags-to-riches storyline. Finally, it’s somewhat topical, given that the draft was held only a few months before this movie came out.
The story, so the film wants us to believe, winds up having Michael (Quinton Aaron), a very large black man who had a tough childhood and adolescence, winding up being adopted by a rich white family who take him in out of pity. The film follows him until he winds up in college. If you’re already seething because of the basic premise, here are two things to calm you down. (1) This is, from what I can gather, mostly how it happened, and (2) the film doesn’t make it about race; it’s more about class disparity and the general compassion of other human beings. That Michael is black and the family who adopts him is white doesn’t matter.
The family is called the Tuohys. They’re rich because the father, Sean (Tim McGraw), started a restaurant chain and now they don’t really have to work. The mother, Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock), is the member whom we most follow, and it’s by her hand that Michael becomes an adopted member of the family. There are two other children: SK (Jae Head), an energetic kid who serves primarily as comic relief and Collins (Lily Collins), who mostly blends into the background.
Most of the story involves Michael becoming a member of the family, attempting to start doing well at school — before the film, he had a sub-1.0 GPA — and after eligible, learning how to play and later dominate the sport of football. Save for one late-game “twist” which attempts to cause tension when there really shouldn’t be any — and it fails at doing so — The Blind Side plays out safely and precisely as you expect it to.
But, you know what? It works. It’s heartwarming and inspirational, it never drags, and if what it’s telling is true-to-life, it’ll get people interested in this player and his life. And, sure, maybe it has an altruistic message that more people need to listen to. It doesn’t outright advocate that people should adopt children who live on the street (especially if they happen to have a body which would do well at sports), but it does hope to maybe make you think about not ignoring them.
The Blind Side is also very watchable, which these types of dramas sometimes aren’t. The sweetness can be unbearable, the lack of tension makes for a boring film, and while it might be pleasant for a while, over two hours of it becomes too much. Luckily, The Blind Side, directed by John Lee Hancock (who also did the sports drama The Rookie), has a few laughs, a couple of points of great drama, two strong leading performances, and doesn’t overwhelm you with anything other than its characters. It’s not too heavy-handed in its message.
It’s also not — really anyway — a sports drama. Football is certainly a plot point, but it’s far more about the relationships between the family members and Michael, as well as the personal drama involving Michael’s attempt to elevate himself above his awful childhood. Sure, his career might wind up being a football player, but it’s about how he got there and what he needed to do in his personal life, off the field, in order to achieve that goal.
If there’s one thing I wish it would have done differently, it would have been exploring some of the darker parts of Michael’s past. They’re alluded to here, and if you go online you can read about what happened to him prior to when the film begins, but the film version seems sanitized. Of course, it needed to be in order to keep its PG-13 rating, but it might have been even more powerful had it gone all the way with Michael’s story. How many 13-year-olds are going to watch this movie anyway? It’s not for them.
It is all effective because of the performances. Newcomer Quinton Aaron has the role of the gentle giant, while Sandra Bullock channels Julia Roberts — to whom the role was initially offered — and gets the far showier part. He doesn’t say anything without provocation, while she will get up in anyone’s face if they so much as say one thing out of line — as a good Christian woman should. The supporting cast winds up being forgotten about, save for the obligatory one or two scenes each secondary character gets. That’s okay; it’s a two person show and works best as that.
The Blind Side is a wonderfully uplifting and inspiring movie that is less interested in the racial readings that will be placed upon it and more focused on the humans involved in its story. It has a strong cast, a great story, a bit of a message and is easily watchable from start to finish. It suffers in a late-game attempts to add artificial tension, as well as in not exploring the darker sides to Michael Oher’s story, but it’s compelling and absolutely worth seeing. It’s not too sweet, and it’s not too heavy-handed. It’s just a really solid movie.