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BY Steven D. Greydanus
Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) is a red-state, family-values, guns-and-religion Erin Brockovich. Righteous, indomitable, unflappable, glamorous in plunging necklines and thigh-hugging skirts, she’s also a pistol-packing mama, a happily married homemaker and mother of two, a Bible-belt Evangelical and a dyed-in-the-wool gridiron junkie. She isn’t crass like Julia Roberts’ Oscar-winning part, but she’s as blunt and direct as an offensive tackle, and about as apt to be cowed by other people’s crass or intimidating behavior.
Leigh Anne and Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) are from different worlds. She’s a former cheerleader, an Ole Miss alumna and interior designer married to a successful entrepreneur (Tim McGraw); he’s a homeless, illiterate black youth from the rough side of the tracks.
Oher’s athletic potential is obvious; when the football coach of an upper-crust white-bread Christian academy sees Oher shooting hoops, he sees a player built like a Hummer. What he doesn’t know is that underneath that imposing chassis is the battered soul of a ten-year-old minivan. He’s got size and power, but lacks the killer instincts to use them effectively.
What he does have, we later learn, is killer “protective instincts.” Maybe Leigh Anne senses that somehow, since he brings out all kinds of killer protective instincts in her. Knowing almost nothing about this formidable-looking young man, she opens her home to him after spotting him on the street in shorts and a T-shirt on a rainy winter night and learning that he has nowhere to go. It’s the beginning of a new life for Michael, who will go on to play football for Ole Miss and the Baltimore Ravens.
Much like The Rookie, writer-director John Lee Hancock’s previous adaptation of a sports-themed nonfiction book, The Blind Side is an uplifting, down-home celebration of decency with low-key Christian values. Winning sincerity and sly humor go a long way toward disarming reservations, though it’s not a perfect movie.
Hancock is sometimes too concerned to make sure viewers don’t miss the point. A scene with Michael listening quietly to Leigh Anne reading aloud from The Story of Ferdinand, a picture book about a mild-mannered bull who would rather smell flowers than fight in bullfights, is a nice touch. But then Hancock has to throw in a later scene in which Leigh Anne explicitly connects the dots: Why, Michael is Ferdinand. (Because, you see, he’s big and strong—like a bull, right?—but also gentle and non-violent—like Ferdinand, get it?)
Most problematic is the film’s neglect of Michael as a character until the very end of the story. The Blind Side raises some unavoidable questions about the Tuohys’ motives: Is it a white guilt thing? Are they manipulating Michael to benefit their alma mater? In the end, I’d say the Tuohys’ charity and compassion are fully exonerated, but the movie isn’t free of treating Michael as a prop to the Tuohys’ virtue. A bit like the fictional gridiron tale Radio (scripted by Hancock’s Rookie screenwriter Mike Rich), The Blind Side is less about the gentle, disadvantaged black youth at the center of the story than about the heroic white people who embrace him.
But The Blind Side is a better and more genuinely empathetic movie than Radio, and its heart and grit, aided by appealing performances, ultimately carry the day. Bullock saunters through the film with a winning blend of toughness and tenderness, and both Aaron and McGraw are engaging in parts that could have been meatier. It’s a rare depiction of a happy marriage and family, and is refreshingly candid about the Tuohys’ Christian faith and its role in their willingness to share their lives in a brave and inspiring way.