Sandra Bullock at Her Best
At the emotional center of The Blind Side is the heartwarming story of Michael Oher, a dispossessed teenager welcomed into the home of a well-to-do Memphis family and given a chance to fulfill his true potential on and off the athletic field. But at the film’s physical core is the commanding performance of Sandra Bullock that props up an otherwise mediocre film busting at the seams with tried-and-true sports movie clichés and boilerplate underdog banalities. Not to belittle the strengths of the film’s emotional impact or the things it does get right, but let’s face it, the whole thing works because of Bullock’s most impressive turn since 1995’s While You Were Sleeping.
The story is adapted by John Lee Hancock (director of The Rookie) from Michael Lewis’s book titled The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game. Bullock plays Leigh Anne Tuohy (pronounced like Too-ee), the real-life Memphis socialite married to fast-food tycoon Sean Tuohy (Tim McGraw), who found Michael (Quinton Aaron) walking the campus of an area Christian school in the dead of a Tennessee winter. The couple opened up their gaudy Mansion to the uneducated kid, and the temporary arrangement gradually became permanent as the tender, loveable Michael warmed himself into their lives. The rest is history that unfolded in 2009’s NFL draft where Michael was selected in the first round and still plays for the Baltimore Ravens.
Bullock portrays Leigh Anne perfectly and is one of the main reasons to see this film. She’s both funny and prickly -- and of course, sexy -- but also manages the tender moments to perfection. We’re reminded of Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich but with a touch of Hilary Swank’s Freedom Writers inspiration. Were it not for Leigh Anne being a real person, we’d swear Bullock’s outspoken, red state, card-carrying member-of-the-NRA feistiness would be an over-the-top depiction embellished for comedic and or dramatic effect. But Bullock makes us believe in Leigh Anne’s steely compassion.
Tim McGraw plays Sean Tuohy in an almost annoyingly passive manner. Initially, he’s stomped all over by Bullock’s whirlwind, but he eventually wins us over with an affable and calming counterbalance. His Sean very nearly becomes the film’s milquetoast laughingstock, but as the story develops, we learn that he’s already won at the game of life as a college basketball player and owner of 70 restaurants, and has now figured out one of life’s toughest tasks -- how to co-exist and thrive in a household with a strong, domineering woman at the top of the hierarchy. Kudos to McGraw for figuring out a way to successfully anchor Bullock with all the force of a feather. As a result, the two make a perfectly believable couple capable of the Herculean task of raising a troubled child, while also allowing themselves to be changed for the better along the way.
Newcomer Quintin Aaron, as Michael, successfully conveys the awakening of a behemoth with a heart of gold. Michael Clarke Duncan broke out in a similar way with his portrayal of the gentle giant, John Coffey in The Green Mile. Though The Blind Side is built around his hulking character, Aaron is mostly called upon merely to stand tall and wide, but to step aside when Bullock enters the scene. However, though he rarely says more than a few words, he manages to speak volumes by just raising his eyebrows.
Fellow newcomers Jae Head and Lily Collins round out the cast as Michael’s adoptive brother and sister, respectively. Because the trio bonded together on the set, their friendship translates to the screen with likeable characters portrayed by all. Kathy Bates plays Michael’s tutor, the person most responsible for preparing him off the field for a life beyond the projects.
The film opens with footage of the well-known Lawrence Taylor greenstick fracture-inducing hit on Joe Theisman with a voiceover importing the value of the left tackle position to the game of football. While we’re told the left tackle protects the blind side of a quarterback, the relation of this fact to the film is mostly missed. It’s probably a remnant that didn’t wholly translate from the book. In the sports movie hierarchy, The Blind Side falls somewhere between We Are Marshall and Friday Night Lights. In other words, somewhere in obscurity. It will never be remembered as one of the best sports films, nor will it likely even be remembered as a great football movie. But it may go down as one of the feel-good movies of the year -- and possibly as Sandra Bullock’s best.
(Released by Warner Bros. Pictures and rated “PG-13” for one scene involving brief violence, drug and sexual references.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.