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.

Popular posts from this blog

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.

I don’t think Wimpys still exist.

Last Night in Soho (2021) (SPOILERS) Last Night in Soho is a cautionary lesson in one’s reach extending one’s grasp. It isn’t that Edgar Wright shouldn’t attempt to stretch himself, it’s simply that he needs the self-awareness to realise which moves are going to throw his back out and leave him in a floundering and enfeebled heap on the studio floor. Wright’s an uber-geek, one with a very specific comfort zone, and there’s no shame in that. He evidently was shamed, though, hence this response to criticisms of a lack of maturity and – obviously – lack of versatility with female characters. Last Night in Soho goes broke for woke, and in so doing exposes his new clothes in the least flattering light. Because Edgar is in no way woke, his attempts to prove his progressive mettle lead to a lurid, muddled mess, one that will satisfy no one. Well, perhaps his most ardent fans, but no one else.

It looks like a digital walkout.

Free Guy (2021) (SPOILERS) Ostensibly a twenty-first century refresh of The Truman Show , in which an oblivious innocent realises his life is a lie, and that he is simply a puppet engineered for the entertainment of his creators/controllers/the masses, Free Guy lends itself to similar readings regarding the metaphysical underpinnings of our reality, of who sets the paradigm and how conscious we are of its limitations. But there’s an additional layer in there too, a more insidious one than using a Hollywood movie to “tell us how it really is”.

The voice from the outer world who will lead them to paradise.

Dune (2021) (SPOILERS) For someone who has increasingly dug himself a science-fiction groove, Denis Villeneuve isn’t terribly imaginative. Dune looks perfect, in the manner of the cool, clinical, calculating and above all glacial rendering of concept design and novel cover art in the most doggedly literal fashion. And that’s the problem. David Lynch’s edition may have had its problems, but it was inimitably the product of a mind brimming with sensibility. Villeneuve’s version announces itself as so determinedly faithful to Frank Herbert, it needs two movies to tell one book, and yet all it really has to show for itself are gargantuan vistas.

Give poor, starving Gurgi munchings and crunchings.

The Black Cauldron (1985) (SPOILERS) Dark Disney? I guess… Kind of . I don’t think I ever got round to seeing this previously. The Fox and the Hound , sure. Basil the Great Mouse Detective , most certainly. Even Oliver and Company , so I wasn’t that selective. But I must have missed The Black Cauldron , the one that nearly broke Disney, for the same reason everyone else did. But what reason was that? Perhaps nothing leaping out about it, when the same summer kids could see The Goonies , or Back to the Future , or Pee Wee’s Big Adventure . It seemed like a soup of other, better-executed ideas and past Disney movies, stirred up in a cauldron and slopped out into an environment where audiences now wanted something a touch more sophisticated.

Monster nom nom?

The Suicide Squad (2021) (SPOILERS) This is what you get from James Gunn when he hasn’t been fed through the Disney rainbow filter. Pure, unadulterated charmlessness, as if he’s been raiding his deleted Twitter account for inspiration. The Suicide Squad has none of the “heart” of Guardians of Galaxy , barely a trace of structure, and revels in the kind of gross out previously found in Slither ; granted an R rating, Gunn revels in this freedom with juvenile glee, but such carte blanche only occasionally pays off, and more commonly leads to a kind of playground repetition. He gets to taunt everyone, and then kill them. Critics applauded; general audiences resisted. They were right to.

It becomes easier each time… until it kills you.

The X-Files 4.9: Terma Oh dear. After an engaging opener, the second part of this story drops through the floor, and even the usually spirited Rob Bowman can’t save the lethargic mess Carter and Spotnitz make of some actually pretty promising plot threads.

Three. Two. One. Lift with your neck.

Red Notice  (2021) (SPOILERS) Red Notice rather epitomises Netflix output. Not the 95% that is dismissible, subgrade filler no one is watching but is nevertheless churned out as original “content”. No, this would be the other, more select tier constituting Hollywood names and non-negligible budgets. Most such fare still fails to justify its existence in any way, shape or form, singularly lacking discernible quality control or “studio” oversight. Albeit, one might make similar accusations of a selection of legit actual studio product too, but it’s the sheer consistency of unleavened movies that sets Netflix apart. So it is with Red Notice . Largely lambasted by the critics, in much the manner of, say 6 Underground or Army of the Dead , it is in fact, and just like those, no more and no less than okay.

Oh hello, loves, what year is it?

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) (SPOILERS) Simu Lui must surely be the least charismatic lead in a major motion picture since… er, Taylor Lautner? He isn’t aggressively bad, like Lautner was/is, but he’s so blank, so nondescript, he makes Marvel’s super-spiffy new superhero Shang-Chi a superplank by osmosis. Just looking at him makes me sleepy, so it’s lucky Akwafina is wired enough for the both of them. At least, until she gets saddled with standard sidekick support heroics and any discernible personality promptly dissolves. And so, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings continues Kevin Feige’s bold journey into wokesense, seemingly at the expense of any interest in dramatically engaging the viewer.

What about the panties?

Sliver (1993) (SPOILERS) It must have seemed like a no-brainer. Sharon Stone, fresh from flashing her way to one of the biggest hits of 1992, starring in a movie nourished with a screenplay from the writer of one of the biggest hits of 1992. That Sliver is one Stone’s better performing movies says more about how no one took her to their bosom rather than her ability to appeal outside of working with Paul Verhoeven. Attempting to replicate the erotic lure of Basic Instinct , but without the Dutch director’s shameless revelry and unrepentant glee (and divested of Michael Douglas’ sweaters), it flounders, a stupid movie with vague pretensions to depth made even more stupid by reshoots that changed the killer’s identity and exposed the cluelessness of the studio behind it. Philip Noyce isn’t a stupid filmmaker, of course. He’s a more-than-competent journeyman when it comes to Hollywood blockbuster fare ( Clear and Present Danger , Salt ) also adept at “smart” smaller pict