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The Blind Side

When one sees the trailer for this Sandra Bullock film, it's hard not to feel a bit cynical: Rich white woman adopts poor black kid out of the ghetto and teaches him self-confidence and how to take full advantage of having a good education, thus saving him from what seemingly would've been a short and wasted life. Indeed, it rings a bit offensive from the outside; however, execution is everything, and there's certainly more going on here that's worthwhile than first glimpses would indicate -- albeit for a rather specific audience.

This biographical story follows Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), an impoverished lad (but clearly not undernourished; he's HUGE) and the rich Southern family that takes him in. The matriarch, Leigh Anne Tuohy (Bullock), is determined to do the 'Christian' thing for this man-sized boy, despite some not-so-charitable opinions from her friends. The Tuohys enroll him with their own children in the upper-class Briarcrest Christian School, where he learns how to learn and proves there's more going on in his melon than his normally circumspect manner would indicate. But ultimately, this is a sports movie, the underdog tale of Oher, who now plays left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens, earning more money in one year than I'll probably see in my entire life. When Oher's grades improve to the point when he's able to join the school's football team and eventually be scouted for college teams, some interesting questions of propriety begin to be raised.

The Blind Side is at least partially raised above the mediocrity and predictability inherent in so many films of its ilk by Bullock's affable and memorable performance. It's her first engaging role since 2006's Infamous. She's pushy and domineering with everyone in her life, but she's also entertaining as hell in the process. More importantly, the film never lets you forget how pure her motives are and that she's almost always right. Quite frankly, though, Blind Side is so centered on Bullock's performance that it completely overshadows the quiet and understated Aaron, bringing back those racist insinuations that always linger oh-so-faintly over the entire affair. He's given so little to actually say that he seems to serve only as a plot device to make the white folks seem even more divine.

In other roles, country music star Tim McGraw as Daddy Tuohy thankfully isn't given much more to do than applaud Momma Tuohy (like pretty much every other element of the film), and Kathy Bates stars as a tutor for Oher, but her character's dialogue is subpar, leaving her with little to work with. Nearly disastrous is the casting of real-life college football coaches as themselves who are given entirely too many lines to stumble through. It's way awkward and it seriously compromises the only bit of actual tension the film attempts: an NCAA hearing with Oher that bookends the film.

In the end, it's hard to figure out exactly where to stand on The Blind Side. On one hand, it's a very positive film and an inspirational story that directs its lesson in compassion at exactly the audience most in need of hearing it. On the other hand, it's a by-the-book affair complete with preachiness and some embarrassing dialogue (i.e., "You're changing that boy's life"; "No, he's changing mine"). Getting past these cringe-worthy scenes and the almost unbearable amount of self-congratulations the story indulges in is tough business, but it goes down a little more easily thanks to Bullock -- as long as you're capable of not contextualizing its racial elements. I'm convinced that those who identify with the folks represented here, as well as those who live and die by college ball, will find more of value here than I could fathom. rated this film 2 stars.