Friday, November 20, 2009

The Blind Side

“This team is your family.” This line stuck out the most with me, on a personal level. A very close friend and teammate of mine recently conveyed very similar sentiments to me, having not been playing with them or even around much this past fall season. This concept of a team being like your family is the overriding theme of this film. There is much to be said about anything that unifies people from different walks of life and improves upon their very existence. This is the reason I have always loved playing team sports. Very few things in my own life have afforded me the kind of trust in my comrades and belief in my contributions as playing football and rugby. And that is precisely what The Blind Side so auspiciously conveys. Sandra Bullock, who portrays Leigh Anne Tuohy in the film, commented in a recent interview, “A family unit doesn’t work unless everyone’s working together. The Team doesn’t work, if everyone’s not working together… Working as a team or a family advances people faster and better than someone by themselves.”

Quinton Aaron & Sandra Bullock
The Blind Side is a warm-hearted drama that is based on the true story of Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher. Director John Lee Hancock (The Rookie and The Alamo) first was inspired to turn Oher’s story into a film after reading Michael Lewis’ 2006 novel, “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game”. Lewis highlights Oher’s football career prior to the NFL, from his early days in high school and onto college. The book also focuses on the pivotal evolution of the very position of left tackle that revolutionized offensive football strategy during the 1980s. This occurred in large part in response to former New York Giant’s outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor’s significant blind side tackle of Washington Redskins' quarterback Joe Theismann which fractured both his tibia and fibula, ultimately ending his professional football career. Viewers in an ESPN poll voted the NFL’s “Most Shocking Moment in History” the injury, and The Washington Post dubbed the tackle “The Hit That No One Who Saw It Can Ever Forget”.

Quinton Aaron as Michael Oher
The movie itself opens with the very incident where Taylor snapped Theismann's leg. It connects the importance of the tackle position in football to the molding of Michael Oher and his uncanny protective instincts. The position brought unprecedented importance to the offensive lineman tasked with protecting the quarterback’s blind side from the pass rusher and befittingly preventing sacks. For my non-football-privy readers, the offensive tackle essentially became a “bodyguard” for the quarterback, with particular importance placed on the side that he could not see from while attempting a pass. Ultimately, this fostered a new dominance for the quarterback and placed an increased importance on the role of the left tackle.

Bullock with Patrick G. Keenan & Maria Howell
Sandra Bullock’s turn as Michael's vivacious foster mother is nothing short of marvelous. We have come to know Bullock for the numerous romantic comedies and action flicks she frequently stars in. It really wasn’t until Paul Haggis’ Best Picture Academy Award–winning Crash did we first see any glimpse of versatility from Bullock. She has broken the mold with this role and garnered a newfound respect as an actress. Her character, Leigh Anne Tuohy, truly is at the heart of this story. She is a wealthy Memphis interior decorator and socialite whose husband, Sean (Tim McGraw), owns several fast-food franchises. She clearly is the dominant one in her marriage and is somewhat of a control freak. But this doesn’t mean to say that she’s heartless. In fact, we quickly discover that she is actually very compassionate. When she first notices Michael Oher, he is interacting with her son S.J. (Jae Head) after school. She later sees him walking along a road after a school event in the cold. Knowing that he a friend of S.J.’s, she inquires as to whether or not he has a place to stay. “Don’t you dare lie to me.” She takes him home with their family and makes him a bed on their couch for the night. This begins her undertaking to help Michael in everyway she can.

Jae Head & Aaron
Michael Oher (played by Quinton Aaron), reluctantly nicknamed Big Mike, is a quiet recently transferred student on scholarship at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis. Based on his appearance alone, he is very much out of place among the other suburban kids being driven to and from school in their parent’s luxury cars. According to tests and conventional observers, Michael is a lost cause when he first enters Briarcrest. He is a 6-foot-5-inch, 340-pound giant with zero learning or communication skills, and a profound inability to indicate his own desires. Michael soon meets S.J. who gives Michael some advice on how to make friends, advising him to smile more so that he seems is less intimidating. But it is precisely Michael’s natural intimidation that proves to be an asset to him later on. Naturally, Michael struggles with the adjustment to the new school and his new life, but eventually find his nitch on the football field.

Newcomer Quinton Aaron brings a subtle innocence to the role of Michael. Although Aaron has very few lines in the film, he still conveys an immense amount of emotion. Michael is curiously blank character despite this new opportunity for him to at Briarcrest. Hancock doesn’t really elaborate upon his past with the exception of a few menial flashbacks, which very well may have been a wise choice. Even when Leigh Anne is exploring his roots by visiting his former urban neighborhood and speaking with Michael’s drug addicted mother, the exposure is limited. This approach forces the audience to appreciate Michael as he makes his strides to improve himself and focus less on his former life of despair. Watching Michael go from this otherwise hopeless teenager to an all-around football star is quite endearing. We witness how Leigh Anne and the entire Tuohy family come to his aid and give him everything that he didn’t have before: a home, a family, love. One of Leigh Anne’s girlfriends eventually commends her, “You’re changing that boys life.” And she quickly responds, “No, he’s changing mine.”

Tim McGraw, Aaron & Bullock
This isn't a sports movie, any more than Friday Night Lights is a sports television show. As with that series, the emphasis is on the human story behind the game, and in particular on the selflessness and decency exhibited by the Tuohys and their new family member. From the beginning, Hancock viewed the The Blind Side as more than just another story of the underdog becoming top dog. While Lewis had used Oher’s story as a backdrop in his book to create a personal relation to the evolution of football, Hancock does exact the opposite and translates that secondary story into a feel good tale about human relationships. He saw Lewis' unconventional plot structure not as an obstacle but as an opportunity, “To me, it was all about the same thing: How did the stars align to shine so brightly on this one kid in the projects in Memphis?”

Quinton Aaron & Sandra Bullock
Hancock set his sights high by addressing the emotional journey of Michael and constructs a film that is so much more than just a sports movie. Sandra Bullock's performance is both devout and revolutionary and I expect will garnish her an Oscar nomination. There is a real life story here and that alone makes it endearing. This is a warmhearted drama that doesn't suffer too much from the emotional manipulation and trite platitudes that often plague such films about real people. True to Lewis' subtitle, "Evolution of a Game," the film highlights how even the most unconventional practices can evolve and develop given the right circumstance—just as Michael Oher did.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Bottom Line: Even if you're not a fan of football, you will appreciate the message behind this film. It's the feel good movie of the year!

Five for Fighting: "Chances"

1 comment:

  1. This movie is not a Oscar material but worth a watch. Adults and children will love this movie.
    The Blind Side Movie