With Sandra Bullock, Quinton Aaron, Tim McGraw. Rated PG-13 for one scene involving brief violence, drug and sexual references. 126 minutes.
What you get out of THE BLIND SIDE will depend on what you bring to it. For some people, this will be an offensive movie bordering on racist, focusing on a Southern white Christian family who adopts a poor black kid as if he were a glorified pet. For others, it’s the inspirational true story of how an act of charity by a family led to miraculous changes for all concerned, not the least of which was the kid.
Michael Oher (played here by Quinton Aaron) was a desperately poor teenager on the streets of Memphis. With no father and a drug-addicted mother, it’s likely he would have been dead at an early age. Instead, he’s taken in by Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy (Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw) who give him love and support, including seeing that he gets the tutoring he needs to qualify for sports. As Michael Lewis makes clear in his book on which the movie was based, Oher came along as football was changing. A big, hulking guy who was fast on his feet could become a star.
In fact, that’s what happens. The Tuohy family starts by offering Oher shelter for the night and end up welcoming him into the family. Those who would take offense are not alone for the NCAA was highly suspicious when Oher was heavily recruited by various college football teams but he “just happened” to end up at the University of Mississippi. The Tuohys were fervently loyal alumni even keeping an apartment near the campus for football season.
The potential for abuse is obvious, if families used adoption as a new recruitment technique for their school teams. In many ways this becomes the story of how everyone – from Oher himself to the Tuohys to the college coaches to the NCAA – have to see him not simply as someone who can take out quarterbacks, but as a person whose views must be treated with respect. As Oher says at one point, he isn’t stupid. He may be slow and uneducated, but that’s not the same thing.
The focus of the film is on Oher and Leigh Anne. Aaron plays Oher as a gentle giant, slow to get riled up, but eventually finding his role in the game. It’s not a surprise that the real Oher eventually ended up in pro football as a draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens. As Leigh Anne, Bullock gets a role where she can play feisty rather than ditzy, and it’s easily her best work of the year. Bullock lets us see the housewife and mother who has to become a fierce advocate for her new son. In helping Oher find his inner strength, she’s surprised to find some untapped inner strength of her own.
“The Blind Side” is an inspirational story of people doing well by doing good. Even more, it reminds us that initial impressions can be deceiving. People – all kinds of people – have the capacity to surprise us if given the opportunity to do so.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.