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

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.