Director John Lee Hancock who directed The Alamo and The Rookie plays it safe in this cry-on-cue biopic The Blind Side. It recounts the game-changing football moves of Michael Oher. This inspirational story is brought to us by a life of loss. A life that begins with no parents, no home, and separation from siblings. Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) is literally a bigger-than-life character.
Michael Oher (pronounced oar) is an exceptional giant of a boy who is taken in by a wealthy white family who make his new life possible. Since Oher is a large African-American male in real life, someone who looked like Michael was in order. Quinton Aaron's Oher is likable despite his intimidating size. He is a big, strong man-child with a marshmallow interior. He tells Leigh Anne Touhy (Sandra Bullock) that his crack-head mother taught him to avoid pain by closing his eyes until it was over. He was supposed to close his eyes while she did drugs and other bad things in the house. That is all we learn of his biological mother and her many babies by unknown fathers. Leigh Anne does share one scene with Michael's mother but much of the film focuses on the time the family spends with college football recruiters.
This true-life drama is set in two distinct worlds in Memphis, Tennessee — a white wealthy one and a poor black one. The black side of town is aptly called Hurt Town. However, the juxtaposition of these worlds never creates tension nor do the awful "facts" of Michael's life.
Sandra Bullock, as the well-groomed Leigh Anne, "discovers" big Mike (as he hates to be called) picking up discarded popcorn boxes after her daughter's volleyball game. On the way home she sees him again and her conscience nags her so she nags her husband to stop and pick him up. He is walking in a cold rain when Leigh Anne invites him to spend the night with her family; that night changes everything. Because Sarah does not take no for an answer from anybody, including Michael.
Sandra is superb as Mrs. Touhy. We never doubt that she believes in the potential of Michael and his good nature. She is smart, tough and fair-minded in her role as the wealthy socialite who steals the show period. But don't expect this rags-to-riches tale about a virtual orphan to steal your heart. Michael Oher and Precious Jones are not this year's black bookends. Mis-education, oversized bodies, impoverished upbringing and lack of real family are where the parallels end. Oh, and don't forget the buzz-worthy performances by their "mothers."
There is one major difference — Michael Oher really does get the fairy tale ending complete with the Touhy family as his legal guardians. That said, a true story with those ingredients, in my opinion, represents a missed opportunity by this director who fails to deliver a more memorable tale.
The Blind Side is a drama. But I was often confused about the genre, especially when I heard peals of laughter from the packed-house audience. The film is full of laugh-out-loud moments and that's okay. The film has some genuinely in-context funny scenes and there should be laughter in life. However, there is no grit here.
The polar opposite cultural settings do not collide or mix where they should. They do not disturb us. We get to know all about football practice and the promise of a college football career. We are certain that Michael will go to college and get drafted into the pros (which is a rare event), but we are not sure who this one-dimensional hero really is.
Unfortunately, John Lee Hancock seemed determined to turn The Blind Side into a Saturday Night football-game film. But he stops short, and instead includes just enough camera on the love and total acceptance of the Touhy family. That touch and Sandra Bullock's performance save this film from itself.