Movie Review: Hancock finds the sunny ‘Side’ of Oher’s story

21 Nov

John Lee Hancock’s film version of Michael Lewis’ novel, The Blind Side is an unexpected holiday gift to  movie-goers looking for a little emotional uplift with their theater experience. In a sea of empty calorie FX pictures, yawny teen flicks and great but devestating dramatic pieces,  Blind Side is that dependable but all too infrequent of cinematic treats; an honest to goodness family film.  

Drawn from the real-life story of Baltimore Ravens’ right tackle Michael O’Her, Side isn’t so much a sports movie as it is an ode to familial stability and sincere charity towards those who truly could use it. It is the second film opening in Baltimore theaters this weekend that focuses upon altruistic individuals pursuing and abiding with less fortunates in whom they see a greater potential; the other is Precious, and while it’s dramatically and artistically the stronger movie, it is a welcome surprise to find that this one delivers its message in a similarly clear, strong voice.

I suppose I was expecting something different, given the cast and a trailer that suggested the usual heart-warming sports film. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy that genre as much as the next guy, but the effect is almost always the same so I don’t seek them out unless I’m in the mood for that particular experience. What works here is the unlikeliness of the true story, involving the 25 yr old, homeless Oher being taken in by the upper-class Tuhoy family who also happen to be devout evangelical Christians. That plot, in the hands of by-the-numbers studio appointed writers could have been a massacre; a poor African American boy is rescued by generous God-fearing white folk. Awww. It’s time for a hug.

Thankfully, Hancock, who adapted the script himself from Lewis’ novel (where the Oher story was one of two plot threads), takes the time to get the details correct and although there is no doubt that the characters have been exaggerated and some events imbellished, overall the movie features believable people encountering and interacting with one another in believable ways. The Tuohys are not one dimensional do-gooders and Oher isn’t portrayed as a giant lug who always needs to be pulled around by his face guard in order to get where he’s going.

For the Tuhoy family, made up of Sean and Leigh Anne and their children, this 300 lb young black man with no percievable family will challenge the structure and notions of their own. In the film they find the down-trodden Oher wandering on the side of a road. In reality, Sean, a one-time point guard for Ole Miss who went on to become a successful fast-food franchise entreupenur, met the oversize Mike at Briarcrest Christian where Tuohy was acting as consultant to teams and coaches. In both versions, Michael is a man with a troubled home life, low intelligence, and a distinct lack of options. The Tuohys are well off and as far demographically and culturally from their new charge as possible, and yet their pairing turns out to be life-changing for all parties.

Hancock follows the cues of similar stories that have come before, and he displays an even hand in delivering the sequences that portray Oher’s educational struggles and the dynamic that exists within the Tuhoy household. Very little of the film is given over to football at all. We see only one game, but the sport is the lynchpin, key and focus to Oher’s material success. The love and care he recieves from others and  reciprocates in his own gentle giant fashion, are the keys to his spiritual and emotional success. So, inevitably, The Blind Side becomes almost completely a story about family values and the sanctity of a supportive home life. If the acting and the writing aren’t working, a story like this will fall hard.

The acting is well up to the task and it’s primarily the reason I’m recommending The Blind Side as much as I am. For starters, I was actually surprised by Tim McGraw as Sean. Singers switching over to acting don’t typically work, but McGraw sort of pulls a Kristofferson here and manages to make the transition relatively seamless. He embodies the character, but isn’t there to carry the movie. Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne and relative newcomer Quentin Aaron as Oher are the dynamic duo driving Blind Side towards the end zone. Surprisingly, they play off each other terrifically well.

I have no idea how sassy Leigh Anne is in real life, or how large her part in Oher’s transformation really was, but Bullock takes the character as written–and some of it is unfortunately written as near psychotic football mom–and makes it the most endearing work she’s ever done. Underneath the accent, the glib little comedy moments, she makes us understand that Leigh Anne is forming a strong and maternal connection for Mike and  it is surprising even she. Her spiritual values prompted the decision to bring him in, but everything that happens afterwards is linked to the ways that Mike gives of himself and his ability to sacrifice and serve the family he is now a part of. Aaron is really terrific in the role, and he sells that quiet, gentle and downcast spirit within a juggernaut’s facade but he doesn’t choose one emotive tact and stick with it for the entire picture. Instead, we see a young man in the midst of a positive change and as he improves we see him struggle and be challenged and prevail and then do the whole thing over again. The supporting cast are all strong and do what they should do; make smaller scenes orbiting the Tuhoys and Oher come to life.

There are some weaknesses to The Blind Side, and most of them lie in trying to meet the expectations of a general audience. There are too many cute lines by far, and occassionally the film pushes Leigh Anne to the foreground more often than was probably accurate to real life or necessary for the story. There is no doubt that a more dramatically honest picture could have been culled together from this material, but I think it is up for debate if it would have had the same uplift. What Blind Side reminds us is that ‘uplift’ and feel-good’ don’t have to be dirty phrases, and that watching people helping out their fellow man/woman isn’t the worst way to spend a few hours at the cinema.

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8 Responses to “Movie Review: Hancock finds the sunny ‘Side’ of Oher’s story”

  1. xiphos0311 November 21, 2009 at 12:06 pm #

    It seems like Sandra Bullock is doing her best impersonation of Connie Britton’s character from the Friday Night Lights TV show, Tami Taylor. Thanks to poster BarfyDog for that observation.

  2. xiphos0311 November 21, 2009 at 6:27 pm #

    Staying with the FNL theme here Tim Mcgraw did excllent work in the movie version. I think he has the goods to do something in the acting world.

  3. Bartleby November 21, 2009 at 6:31 pm #

    You are right Xi. I forgot about that. Like I said, I can seem him following the trajectory of Kris Kristofferson, the only country singer I can think of that really made a credible jump from one venue to the other. In fact, so credible that a few years ago one of our younger friends emails us what he thinks is some wacky stunt and says “Look, Whistler from Blade has a COUNTRY album coming out? What is the world coming to?”

  4. xiphos0311 November 21, 2009 at 6:41 pm #

    Did your young friend suffer from a major head wound?

    I think McGraw learned all about acting from his old man who spent his entire baseball career acting like he didn’t throw spit/scuff balls.

    Kristofferson has always been solid as an actor but I think Mcgraw might have a bit more diversity in his potential roles the KK had.

  5. Bartleby November 21, 2009 at 6:45 pm #

    Well there are only so many roles that call for a piece of bearded driftwood in a flannel shirt so yea, I think McGraw might have a better chance of diversity than Kristofferson.

    And no head wound. He simply disliked country music and was born after 1982 so understandably he hadn’t seen that other side of Kristofferson. I think for alot of us we were seeing him in film before we realized he had an accomplished musical career.

  6. xiphos0311 December 1, 2009 at 8:23 pm #

    I was watching Sunday Night football, Steelers vs Ravens, so naturally the announcers brought up the Oher movie. They said Oher was displeased about certain ways he was presented in the movie specifically about his football skills. Oher said he’s been playing football since he was eight and new how to play in High School.

  7. bgs January 2, 2010 at 12:07 am #

    If you watched his interview he is very thankful for where he is and to his family. He said he understands it is Hollywood and they had to embelish it some.

  8. Jeff Cole January 9, 2010 at 9:11 pm #

    Glad to see adoption presented as a benefit to both parties.

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