Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Blind Side (2009)

Dir. John Lee Hancock
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, Kathy Bates

Having watched movies this year about basketball (Best Shot) and baseball (Bull Durham) it seemed right that I watched one about American Football. But this isn’t it. American football may play a part in the story but it is not a film about American football. It is more properly a story about how a little Christian kindness can change someone’s life. 

Yes, that’s right – I used the word ‘Christian’, and I used it in a positive way. The Christianity shown in Inherit the Wind was one of bigotry and ignorance, a Christianity that believed in The Word of God. The Christianity shown in The Blind Side is one of compassion and charity, a Christianity that acts after the example of Jesus. 

Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) is a product of an appalling background. With a drug-addict mother, an absent father (just one of many men who appeared and disappeared from his mother’s life), and a childhood spent in and out of one foster home and one school after another he has lttle in life to look forward to. He has always been passed along, a dirty little job for the next person to attend to. A friend’s father manages to wangle Michael a place at the private Wingate Christian School. It is there that he ccomes to the attention of Leigh Anne Tuohy (an Oscar-winning turn from Sandra Bullock). Realising that Michael has nowhere to sleep she invites him to spend the night with her family. One night becomes several and Michael becomes part of the Tuohys’ lives. Finally with people believing in him he becomes more confident. His school grades improve and – with a bit of an appeal to his protective feelings towards his adopted family – he starts to excel on the football field too. 

It is easy to be cynical about the events portrayed in the film. The Tuohys saved one boy from poverty – but as the film shows there are plenty more out there. Michael is a drop in the ocean. If he had not become an American football star would anyone really have cared about the story? And what happened to his friend and his father who managed to get him admitted to Wingate in the first place? They just drop out of the tale after five minutes. But where will cynicism get us? Leigh Anne Tuohy and her family follow their charitable instincts. Unlike her fellow Ladies Who Lunch she does not just organise charity events and donate to good causes – she is not afraid to act in the service of her ideals. She invites an unknown young man into her home. When he disappears she goes alone to the crime-ridden projects in which he grew up in search of him. She even verbally slaps down a gangsta who has the audacity to call her “bitch”. The film does hint at another reading of her behaviour; the National College Athletics Association suspect that the Tuohys might have taken in Michael just to benefit their alma mater, ‘Ole Miss’. But I prefer to set aside the cynicism and take the story at face value. The Tuohys have led very comfortable, blessed lives. In their own way they take the opportunity to change the future. One of Leigh Anne’s friends tells her “You’re changing that boy’s life.” “No,” Leigh Anne replies; “He’s changing mine.”  
Please Lord... take him back...!
If you want to criticise The Blind Side do not criticise the intentions of the characters unless you are willing to do the same and more. Criticise other things. Like, for instance, it’s kind of predictable. It is, like The Help, a story of how white people save black people. Once the Tuohys take that first step of inviting Michael into their home you can pretty much guess what will happen over the rest of the movie. It’s like a love story. Boy (Michael) meets girl (Leigh Anne). World does not understand their relationship. Struggles as they strive to make it work. Then, in the penultimate reel, there is a big argument and boy storms off. They patch things up and they all live happily ever after. I maybe wasn’t expecting the sudden cloud thrown over the Tuohys’ motivations but all the rest was as predictable as a Michael Bay movie. Or criticise the annoying smart-mouth kid brother SJ (Jae Head), one of the most precociously irritating kids I have seen in a film since Jurassic Park. Or, to be honest, criticise society when Memphis seems resolutely divided between wealthy white communities who send their children to private schools and attend prayer meetings with the District Attorney and impoverished black-populated sink estates swarming with drugs, violence and family breakdown. Do not criticise the people who try to make even a small difference.

What have I learnt about Tennessee?
Fifty years of civil rights do not seem to have led anywhere in Memphis. Black characters inhabit crime-ridden projects. Inhabitants are either pushing or addicted to drugs. Life is crude. They make specific reference to pickpocketting tourists on Beale Street. Education is the only way out, but that costs money. Social services do not care. In comparison the white characters in The Blind Side are wealthy and go-getting, athletically-inclined and well-educated. They are well-connected and religious. These two communities are very separate; they simply do not mix. The nearest they come is one of Michael’s step-brothers waiting tables at a restaurant the Tuohys frequent. Politically things are polarized too. The Tuohys and all their friends are Republican – Godfearing churchgoing members of the NRA. As Leigh Anne’s husband at one point comments “Who would have thought we would have a black son before we met a Democrat?” 

The Univeristy of Tennessee American football team play in a “gaudy orange”. Despite living in Tennessee Leigh Anne refuses to support them – it seems that they are sworn rivals of the University of Mississippi. 

Can we go there?
The film is based on real events in and around the city of Memphis. The real-life ‘Wingate Christian School’ was actually Briarcrest Christian School. Michael Oher still plays for the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL. 

The film was not filmed in Memphis however – shooting took place in Atlanta, Georgia. The schools used for Wingate were really Atlanta International School and The Westminster Schools (whose alumni includes Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With the Wind). Westminster supplied the school football pitch. The Tuohy house, which was supposedly in East Memphis, was located in the Buckhead neighbourhood. The area used to signify the poverty of Hurt Village, where the Ohers lived, was a section of projects in East Atlanta scheduled for demolition. 

Overall Rating: 3/5

No comments:

Post a Comment