News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 18, 2009

'The Blind Side' focuses on the feel-good

By Glenn Whipp

The redemption-minded sports flick "The Blind Side" serves its inspiration straight-up with no twist.

Writer-director John Lee Hancock wisely lets the true story of Michael Oher — the African-American teen who found a home and, eventually, football stardom, after being adopted by a wealthy Memphis family — speak for itself. That direct focus delivers a feel-good crowd-pleaser, but it also drains the film of the kind of subtle nuances that might have separated it from other Hollywood Hallmark-like efforts, including Hancock's own "The Rookie."

As chronicled in "Moneyball" author Michael Lewis' finely reported book, "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game," Oher spent his first 16 years living in a shell. When he improbably landed at Memphis' Briarcrest Christian School, he had an IQ of 80 and an inability to cope with a mere conversation. His prospects looked dim until he was taken in by Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy.

For everything he lacked in life (family, food, a place to sleep), Oher had been blessed with the rare blend of size, strength and quickness sought by football coaches for the valuable left tackle position. That spot on the offensive line protects a right-handed quarterback from hits he can't see coming. If Oher could somehow develop his raw talent into practiced technique, he could win a college scholarship and, possibly, a professional football career.

"The Blind Side" dutifully chronicles the transformation of Oher (played by newcomer Quinton Aaron with the proper less-is-more approach) from blank slate to a fully formed young man, emphasizing Leigh Ann (Sandra Bullock) at the expense of Sean (Tim McGraw). (The book notes Sean's equally valuable contributions.) Bullock brings her trademarked spunkiness to the mother hen role, delivering an iron-willed woman who looks past appearances to do the right thing.

"You are changing that boy's life," notes one of Leigh Anne's condescending ladies-who-lunch pals.

"No," Leigh Anne replies. "He's changing mine."

That solemn rebuke captures the spirit of the movie in a nutshell, though, strangely, we never see any actual change in Bullock's indomitable Memphis mama from the beginning of the movie to the end. Husband Sean, consigned to couch duty for most of the film (when he isn't commenting on how plucky his wife is), tells Oher that Leigh Ann is an "onion," but Hancock doesn't go beyond peeling the first layer.

The movie does address allegations that the Tuohys took an interest in Oher so they could steer the prodigy to Ole Miss, their beloved alma mater. That inclusion seems designed more to give the leisurely film some much-needed tension than actually probe the issue, since the obstacles facing Oher rarely feel threatening in the film.

As was the case with "The Rookie," Hancock aims to present a reality that comforts and inspires, populated by people actively living their beliefs. Why did the Tuohys take in Oher? Without definitively answering that question, the film poses one of its own: Why don't more people follow their lead?

"The Blind Side," a Warner Bros. Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for one scene involving brief violence, drug and sexual references. Running time: 128 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.