Skip to main content

Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane.

The Blind Side
(2009)

(SPOILERS) I’ve found my way to seeing most Best Picture Oscar nominees of the last four decades or so, but failing to get round to see The Blind Side never seemed like a particularly glaring blind spot. Nominated during the first year of the Academy’s (re-)expanded slate, this aspirational sports drama was commonly seen as filler to make up numbers for the ten slots (and commonly cited a couple of years later as a reason ten was then pegged as a maximum rather than a quota). If I say it’s a John Lee Hancock film, that should tell you all you need to know about how essential it is, provided you even know who John Lee Hancock is.

Which isn’t entirely fair, as I really liked The Founder. But you know, it kind of is too. Hancock actually scripted one of Clint’s most underrated movies (A Perfect World) when he was starting out, but his directorial career has been characterised – if that’s the right word, since it suggests some degree of stylistic design – by a discernible lack of narrative drive, tension, pace and urgency. Stolid, might sum him up, and The Blind Side is exactly that. It’s competent, dependable and formulaic in its telling of a true-life tale, assembling a collection of readily identifiable Hollywood clichés to accompany its good Southern values. It’s thus unsurprising that the biggest charge to be levelled against it – aside from it not being up to the standards of a Best Picture contender, but what’s new there – was that it represented yet another White Saviour narrative.

Sandra Bullock initially turned down the Leigh Anne Tuohy role three times on the principle that so many Christians were hypocrites, she didn’t want to play one (very high-minded of her; it’s a wonder she ever takes any parts!) She should probably have been more concerned over the image the film as a whole seemed to be projecting, rather than focussing on just her part. But it’s easy to see why Leigh Anne secured Sandy an Oscar, since it’s an appealingly aspirational part promoting decent caring values. And, like Julia Roberts in Erin Brokovich – Roberts also turned the Tuohy role down, but in her case, it stayed turned down – it’s just showy, plucky and forthright enough. Plus, it’s possessed of proper actorly business like an attention-grabbing accent.

Tennessee-based Tuohy and her family – including an insipid Tim McGraw, a precocious Jae Head and Lily Collins’ eyebrows – opt to adopt Big Mike Oher (Quinton Aaron), a seventeen-year-old African American in the Wingate Christian School football team, sympathetic towards his learning difficulties and uncertain emotional issues (he keeps running away from foster homes). This eventually leads to a NCAA investigator assessing whether their eagerness to help was based on the ulterior motive of keeping him at their old school (they even bring in Kathy Bates as his tutor). But we, of course, know better. The film might not, however, since it shows a fairly cynical hand. Mike, being dumb, innocent and with a strong protective instinct (ninety-eight percentile!) is ideal for a good white Christian family to come off looking better, even more so when Leigh Anne stands her ground with a nasty gang leader from Mike’s old neighbourhood (isn’t she spunky?)

Inevitably, this purity of motive is reinforced by Carter Burwell’s impossibly syrupy score. I don’t necessarily have a problem with such classical – or stereotypical, if you like – stories if they’re well told – which is why Green Book, beset by accusations of regressiveness at every turn on its path to Oscar success, largely worked for me – but Hancock’s directorial approach invites the least sympathetic reading, every element laid unflatteringly bare for all to see. The defence in these circumstances, that the makers are simply telling a true story, can only be a part of the conversation, since as significant if not more so is how responsible it is or isn’t to tell that story at that point. After all, Hollywood is there to make money, and if that comes by reinforcing stereotypes, they aren’t going to opt out, provided they can claim they aren’t offensive stereotypes. So there’s an entirely different set of criteria also at play, besides emblazoning the undoubted good deeds, honest intent and positive impact the Tuohys had on Michael Oher’s life.

Hancock, who professes to be a Christian – I don’t know how much that was selling the movie, but his pictures do have a running foregrounding of noticeably conservative values – is also very much the maker of intrinsic Americana. In a period where Hollywood has an expectation to make most of its money internationally, his biggest successes have been markedly homegrown, The Blind Side’s 83% US gross only eclipsed by The Rookie’s 94%, although since they’re both sports movies, that shouldn’t be so surprising (Saving Mr Banks, meanwhile, was 71% US). He’s since made The Highwaymen for Netflix, a Bonnie and Clyde picture told from the point of view of the lawmen. Well, he wouldn’t exactly be celebrating the outlaws, now would he? I need to give it a look at some point, but by most accounts it’s victim to a discernible lack of narrative drive, tension, pace and urgency.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Mondo bizarro. No offence man, but you’re in way over your head.

The X-Files 8.7: Via Negativa I wasn’t as down on the last couple of seasons of The X-Files as most seemed to be. For me, the mythology arc walked off a cliff somewhere around the first movie, with only the occasional glimmer of something worthwhile after that. So the fact that the show was tripping over itself with super soldiers and Mulder’s abduction/his and Scully’s baby (although we all now know it wasn’t, sheesh ), anything to stretch itself beyond breaking point in the vain hope viewers would carry on dangling, didn’t really make much odds. Of course, it finally snapped with the wretched main arc when the show returned, although the writing was truly on the wall with Season 9 finale The Truth . For the most part, though, I found 8 and 9 more watchable than, say 5 or 7. They came up with their fair share of engaging standalones, one of which I remembered to be Via Negativa .

Isn’t it true, it’s easier to be a holy man on the top of a mountain?

The Razor’s Edge (1984) (SPOILERS) I’d hadn’t so much a hankering as an idle interest in finally getting round to seeing Bill Murray’s passion project. Partly because it seemed like such an odd fit. And partly because passion isn’t something you tend to associate with any Murray movie project, involving as it usually does laidback deadpan. Murray, at nigh-on peak fame – only cemented by the movie he agreed to make to make this movie – embarks on a serious-acting-chops dramatic project, an adaptation of W Somerset Maugham’s story of one man’s journey of spiritual self-discovery. It should at least be interesting, shouldn’t it? A real curio? Alas, not. The Razor’s Edge is desperately turgid.

You have done well to keep so much hair, when so many’s after it.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972) (SPOILERS) Hitherto, I was most familiar with Jeremiah Johnson in the form of a popular animated gif of beardy Robert Redford smiling and nodding in slow zoom close up (a moment that is every bit as cheesy in the film as it is in the gif). For whatever reason, I hadn’t mustered the enthusiasm to check out the 1970s’ The Revenant until now (well, beard-wise, at any rate). It’s easy to distinguish the different personalities at work in the movie. The John Milius one – the (mythic) man against the mythic landscape; the likeably accentuated, semi-poetic dialogue – versus the more naturalistic approach favoured by director Sydney Pollack and star Redford. The fusion of the two makes for a very watchable, if undeniably languorous picture. It was evidently an influence on Dances with Wolves in some respects, although that Best Picture Oscar winner is at greater pains to summon a more sensitive portrayal of Native Americans (and thus, perversely, at times a more patr

I tell you, it saw me! The hanged man’s asphyx saw me!

The Asphyx (1972) (SPOILERS) There was such a welter of British horror from the mid 60s to mid 70s, even leaving aside the Hammers and Amicuses, that it’s easy to lose track of them in the shuffle. This one, the sole directorial effort of Peter Newbrook (a cameraman for David Lean, then a cinematographer), has a strong premise and a decent cast, but it stumbles somewhat when it comes to taking that premise any place interesting. On the plus side, it largely eschews the grue. On the minus, directing clearly wasn’t Newbrook’s forte, and even aided by industry stalwart cinematographer Freddie Young (also a go-to for Lean), The Aspyhx is stylistically rather flat.

My Doggett would have called that crazy.

The X-Files 9.4: 4-D I get the impression no one much liked Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), but I felt, for all the sub-Counsellor Troi, empath twiddling that dogged her characterisation, she was a mostly positive addition to the series’ last two years (of its main run). Undoubtedly, pairing her with Doggett, in anticipation of Gillian Anderson exiting just as David Duchovny had – you rewatch these seasons and you wonder where her head was at in hanging on – made for aggressively facile gender-swapped conflict positions on any given assignment. And generally, I’d have been more interested in seeing how two individuals sympathetic to the cause – her and Mulder – might have got on. Nevertheless, in an episode like 4-D you get her character, and Doggett’s, at probably their best mutual showing.

You’re a disgrace, sir... Weren’t you at Harrow?

Our Man in Marrakesh aka Bang! Bang! You’re Dead (1966) (SPOILERS) I hadn’t seen this one in more than three decades, and I had in mind that it was a decent spy spoof, well populated with a selection of stalwart British character actors in supporting roles. Well, I had the last bit right. I wasn’t aware this came from the stable of producer Harry Alan Towers, less still of his pedigree, or lack thereof, as a sort of British Roger Corman (he tried his hand at Star Wars with The Shape of Things to Come and Conan the Barbarian with Gor , for example). More legitimately, if you wish to call it that, he was responsible for the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu flicks. Our Man in Marrakesh – riffing overtly on Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana in title – seems to have in mind the then popular spy genre and its burgeoning spoofs, but it’s unsure which it is; too lightweight to work as a thriller and too light on laughs to elicit a chuckle.

Schnell, you stinkers! Come on, raus!

Private’s Progress (1956) (SPOILERS) Truth be told, there’s good reason sequel I’m Alright Jack reaps the raves – it is, after all, razor sharp and entirely focussed in its satire – but Private’s Progress is no slouch either. In some respects, it makes for an easy bedfellow with such wartime larks as Norman Wisdom’s The Square Peg (one of the slapstick funny man’s better vehicles). But it’s also, typically of the Boulting Brothers’ unsentimental disposition, utterly remorseless in rebuffing any notions of romantic wartime heroism, nobility and fighting the good fight. Everyone in the British Army is entirely cynical, or terrified, or an idiot.

It’s not as if she were a… maniac, a raving thing.

Psycho (1960) (SPOILERS) One of cinema’s most feted and most studied texts, and for good reason. Even if the worthier and more literate psycho movie of that year is Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom . One effectively ended a prolific director’s career and the other made its maker more in demand than ever, even if he too would discover he had peaked with his populist fear flick. Pretty much all the criticism and praise of Psycho is entirely valid. It remains a marvellously effective low-budget shocker, one peppered with superb performances and masterful staging. It’s also fairly rudimentary in tone, character and psychology. But those negative elements remain irrelevant to its overall power.

The best thing in the world for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse.

Marnie (1964) (SPOILERS) Hitch in a creative ditch. If you’ve read my Vertigo review, you’ll know I admired rather than really liked the picture many fete as his greatest work. Marnie is, in many ways, a redux, in the way De Palma kept repeating himself in the early 80s only significantly less delirious and… well, compelling. While Marnie succeeds in commanding the attention fitfully, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. And Hitch, digging his heels in as he strives to fashion a star against public disinterest – he failed to persuade Grace Kelly out of retirement for Marnie Rutland – comes entirely adrift with his leads.

You know what I sometimes wish? I sometimes wish I were ordinary like you. Ordinary and dead like all the others.

Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) (SPOILERS) Bryan Forbes’ adaptation of Mark McShane’s 1961’s novel has been much acclaimed. It boasts a distinctive storyline and effective performances from its leads, accompanied by effective black-and-white cinematography from Gerry Turpin and a suitably atmospheric score from John Barry. I’m not sure Forbes makes the most of the material, however, as he underlines Séance on a Wet Afternoon ’s inherently theatrical qualities at the expense of its filmic potential.