Eugene Weekly : Movies : 1.7.10


Great Expectations
Sandra Bullock in the game of her life
by Jason Blair

THE BLIND SIDE: Directed by John Lee Hancock. Written by Hancock, based on the book by Michael Lewis. Cinematography, Alar Kivilo. Music, Carter Burwell. Starring Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron and Kathy Bates. Warner Bros., 2009. PG-13. 128 minutes.

Sandra Bullock and Quinton Aaron in The Blind Side

How do you solve a problem like Sandra Bullock? The popular actress, whose films have earned billions worldwide, has had it tough with highbrow critics, who generally regard her as a spirited but harmless underachiever. Of her more than 40 movies, critic Mark Kermode credits her with three “good” films — Speed, While You Were Sleeping and Crash — a list to which Infamous, the “other” Truman Capote film, deserves to be permanently added. While Crash showcased her darker, more paranoid side, her performance as Harper Lee in Infamous is a measured, steady feat, and prior to The Blind Side it arguably was the performance of her career. Now, with The Blind Side, Bullock exceeds all her prior work put together. With nominations pouring in for both The Blind Side and The Proposal, Bullock is poised to have the best year of her career, a key development for an actress who has enjoyed financial success but never won a major individual acting award. 

The Blind Side is based on the Michael Lewis book, a football story with a Darwinian spirit. Lewis chronicles the rise of defensive menace Lawrence Taylor — and the corresponding evolution of offensive lineman to block him — as well as the unlikely story of Michael Oher, a poor black Memphis youth whose size and agility make him the ideal offensive left tackle. The movie takes the Micheal Oher storyline (Oher is played by Quinton Aaron) and mutates it, focusing instead on Leigh Anne Touhy (Bullock), the wealthy interior decorator who takes Michael into her home. It’s a Hail Mary pass of a plot that Bullock executes to perfection. Given the established formula of the orphan-quest for maturity and refinement, from Great Expectations to Six Degrees of Separation, this is deeply familiar ground, but The Blind Side luxuriates in the sheer force of Leigh Anne’s personality as she attempts to impose stability on Michael’s life. In The Blind Side, Michael is a gentle giant, barely speaking throughout the film, while Bullock’s Leigh Anne is tough, charismatic and bossy, a woman whose previous charitable attempts involved trendy causes rather than helping individuals. In the battle of their personalities, it’s not even close.

The Touhys enroll Michael in private school, the same institution attended by their children Collins (Lily Collins) and SJ (an entertaining Jae Head). The Blind Side follows Michael’s senior year attempts to maintain good grades, develop at football and in general fit in with society. One of the most satisfying elements of The Blind Side is the great difficulty with which Michael learns to defend himself — not to mention his quarterback — and the utter ease with which Leigh Anne, claws out, manages to protect him. 

Over and over, you expect The Blind Side to fail, to drop the ball by relying on manipulative clichés, perhaps by sending Michael back to foster care for something he didn’t do (but looks like he could have done). But Michael, a “fly in the milk” in the white world of Memphis privilege, is the tabula rasa upon which Leigh Anne forcibly but lovingly etches her values. She simply won’t let him fail. The Blind Side might be as soft and as broad as its man-child subject, but it’s worth watching to see Bullock inhabit a character so utterly, rather than merely making a good impression.