The Academy nominated 2009's "The Blind Side" for Best Picture of the Year, and they awarded Sandra Bullock the Best Actress Oscar for her role in the film. Fair enough. But is the movie really Oscar-caliber material? Not really. While it's a good true-life, inspirational sports film, one I enjoyed, I cannot see it as anything that much better than a dozen other true-life, inspirational sports movies.
And why do so many true-life inspirational films come from the world of athletics? Is it simply because people think of sports figures as heroes? Why not a true-life inspirational movie about an accountant, an insurance agent, or a grocery-store clerk? OK, maybe not. Folks love their sports.
The main thing that sets "The Blind Side" apart from its competition is that it focuses more on the Sandra Bullock character than it does on the sports figure. I suppose that in itself is worth something, though not necessarily an Oscar. Ms. Bullock puts in a fine, moving performance in a serious role, the actress avoiding most of her usual, patented cutesiness; yet it still doesn't seem to me a particularly demanding role. Ah, well, she won the award, and more power to her. She does bring the movie to life.
Indeed, if it weren't for Ms. Bullock's portrayal of the real-life Leigh Anne Tuohy, we probably wouldn't have much of a movie, because the other main character, the real-life football player Michael Oher, is simply sweet and gentle, without much story going for him beyond his adoption into the Tuohy family and their encouragement of his talents. In other words, without Bullock's character, there isn't a lot of story to the story beyond a conventional heartwarming family drama. Which, fortunately, is enough.
In 2009 the Baltimore Ravens chose left tackle Michael Oher in the first round of the NFL draft. Becoming a highly visible and well-paid professional football player was quite a dramatic outcome for a young man who might otherwise have wound up washing dishes or flipping burgers the rest of his life. "The Blind Side," written and directed by John Lee Hancock ("The "Rookie") and based on the book "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game" by Michael Lewis, tells Oher's story and how the Tuohy's helped bring it to pass.
The movie begins in Memphis, Tennessee, in the early 2000's. Michael (Quinton Aaron) is a very large, black teenager living with a friend after his poverty-stricken, drug-addicted mother gave him up to a succession of foster parents. The friend sees a potential in Michael and enrolls him in a private school, where the school's football coach (Ray McKinnon) hopes Michael might be able to play ball for them. Because Leigh Anne Tuohy's children, S.J. (Jae Head) and Collins (Lily Collins), go to the same school, Leigh Anne chances to meet the young man and takes an interest in him.
Michael has hardly ever been to school before and has never done any homework. He's still living on the friend's couch and has little future in the classroom. The film never makes it particularly clear why Leigh Anne takes in the boy, but she does. Of course, it helps that she and her husband Sean (Tim McGraw) are quite well off, she being a successful interior designer and he owning "about a million Taco Bells," as young T.J. describes it. Leigh Anne's friends wonder if Leigh Anne didn't accept Michael into their family as a personal do-good project or as a matter of assuaging some kind of white guilt.
In any case, Leigh Anne makes a home for Michael within her own family, gets him a tutor (Kathy Bates), and pushes him to succeed academically. Leigh Anne is a determined, tough-minded, often demanding, yet caring woman whose husband is used to her getting her own way. I know how he feels.
For his part, Michael is a big, cuddly, kindhearted bear of a guy; he's a gentle giant, played effectively by relative newcomer Quinton Aaron. And that's about the extent of the movie. Naturally, there are more complications along the way, but basically the film is about Michael's personal achievement and, more important, about Leigh Anne Tuohy's continual encouragement of Michael to succeed. Without her determination, and without her family's assistance, it's clear Michael would not have had much of a chance in life.
For a purported football movie, "The Blind Side" contains relatively little football, but when the sports segments do arrive, they liven up the story considerably. The drama is fine, but the excitement, thrills, and pure entertainment of the football interludes take the movie to another plane. It's also fun to see real-life college football coaches and former coaches play themselves, people like Nick Saben, Lou Holtz, Houston Nutt, Tommy Tuberville, and Phillip Fulmer making guest appearances.
"The Blind Side" can be light, sentimental, and predictable, to be sure, but since it really happened, one can hardly complain. The main thing is that Bullock and company portray the story's characters realistically and sympathetically, with a genuine conviction that is hard to resist. As I've said, while I don't think it's a great film, I couldn't help liking it.
Warners present the film on Blu-ray disc in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, using a dual-layer BD50 and a VC-1 codec. The picture's greatest virtue is its bright, deep colors, but for high definition the object delineation is only so-so. The image quality varies considerably from scene to scene, perhaps a result of the cameras used for the various shots. Sometimes, particularly in long shots, it can look crisp and sharp; at other times it can be soft, rough, and slightly blurred. Even though the quality is never objectionable and shows few traces of filtering, edge enhancement, or other touch-ups, it never quite lives up to the highest standards of high definition, either.
The WB audio engineers may have mastered the soundtrack in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, but it's still a rather plain-Jane affair. Its greatest assets are its clarity, naturalness, and warm ambient bloom. Its drawback is having little to do beyond replicate dialogue, a little background music, and a few football noises. So it's not a very hardworking soundtrack, just a reasonably efficient one, the lossless DTS-HD very slightly warmer and smoother than regular Dolby Digital.
The primary bonus items are five Blu-ray exclusive featurettes. The first is "The Real Michael Oher: An Exclusive Interview," about ten minutes wherein Michael talks about his life and the movie. Next is "Acting Coaches: Behind the Blind Side," about five minutes with the guest coaches who play themselves. After that, there is "The Story of Big Quinton," about thirteen minutes on the actor who plays Michael in the film and how his story mirrors Michael's. Then, there are two "Sidelines: Conversations on the Blind Side," one with Sandra Bullock and Leigh Anne Tuohy lasting about five minutes and another with director John Lee Hancock and author Michael Lewis lasting about twenty-seven minutes.
The bonuses continue with four deleted scenes, totaling about seven minutes; twenty-eight scene selections; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages; French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
Finally, because this is a Combo Pack, in addition to the Blu-ray disc we also get a standard-definition DVD of the movie, plus a standard-definition digital copy for iTunes and Windows Media (the offer expiring March 21, 2011). A light cardboard slipcover encloses the keep case.
By the time Michael Oher graduated from high school, he was among the most sought-after students in the country by top college recruiters. When he graduated from college, he was among the most sought-after football players by the National Football League. None of it would probably have happened without the love and support of Leigh Anne Tuohy and the entire Tuohy family. Whether this makes the movie worthy of Oscar consideration is another matter, but there is little doubt it is an uplifting and inspirational film.