In Theaters: The Blind Side
It's too bad for Sandra Bullock that The Blind Side will most likely find its biggest following among football fans, the religious right, and parents looking for anything to watch while their daughters are down the multiplex corridor shrieking at New Moon. Bullock delivers a terrific performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy, the Memphis woman whose family's adopting of homeless young Michael Oher set the groundwork for his education and eventual advancement to the National Football League. Blond, brisk and all business, she's easily the best thing about the film, which otherwise slumps into a cloying, condescending morass that doesn't do her fine work any favors.
It's not as though writer-director John Lee Hancock couldn't have had The Blind Side both ways: a tight human drama as well as a comprehensive riff on how Oher's position on the offensive line -- left tackle -- became the second most important (and second best paid) position on any football team, just behind the quarterback. After all, the art, science, and business of the left tackle are the real stars of Michael Lewis's source book, with the true-life Tuohy-Oher relationship offering a functional context for how coveted players are developed. Hancock's stunning opening sequence explains what a left tackle does (NFL fans will cringe with knowing anticipation within seconds as ex-Redskins QB Joe Theismann lines up for the last play of his career), narrated by Bullock in a nasal, perfect Southern twang. It instantly makes the game both visceral and accessible -- no easy feat for a movie, despite the NFL being the biggest spectator sport in America.
But that's about all the football you're going to get for a while, because Leigh Anne Tuohy has some savin' to do. Her charge: Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), the 17-year-old son of a crack-addicted mother and a disappeared father. He's a bit of a fish out of water at Wingate Christian School, where Tuohy's own children attend and where Michael has been shipped in as a possible star for their football team. Which would be great if he knew anything about the game and had the grades to play in the first place. Shuffling nowhere in particular one rainy night before Thanksgiving, the Tuohys -- or rather, Leigh Anne Tuohy, a benevolent force of nature to whom apparently no one has ever said "no" -- invite him to get out of the cold for one night on their couch.
One night becomes two, two nights become a week, and a week soon becomes legal guardianship. Michael winds up in Tuohy family Christmas cards, pulls a Jesus-y miracle move in a wicked car accident, restores a sense of togetherness among the Tuohys and their kids... all the patronizing messianic stuff that Lewis's book smartly avoided. Leigh Anne, meanwhile, brings her own spiritual A-game, upbraiding stereotypically stodgy Southern whites and leering blacks with rebukes like, "I'm in a prayer group with the D.A., I'm a member of the NRA, and I am always packin'."
Together they're unstoppable -- at least in real life. Onscreen, Aaron afflicts Michael with chronically sad eyes, furrowed brows and fake smiles; it's his first big role, and Hancock hardly protects his actor's own blind side each time he goes back to pass. Bullock is a blast, though, shearing through Hancock's clutter with Tuohy's own failsafe immunity to nonsense. Convinced she's doing the right thing, she does it with gusto and aplomb; Bullock works much the same way, bringing life to Aaron and her even more outmatched co-star Tim McGraw, playing her husband with all the reactive zeal of a wax statue.
By the time the games literally begin about halfway through, The Blind Side has exhausted pretty much any dramatic goodwill that makes Michael's football education worth your investment. Hancock gets cute with cameos by college coaches including Nick Saban, Phil Fulmer and Lou Holtz, all less affecting than creepy as they aggressively recruit Michael to their schools. A late development forces a confrontation between the Tuohys and the NCAA, nodding to Lewis's original story about the true stakes behind players like Michael Oher, who ultimately wound up attending Ole Miss and being drafted by the NFL's Baltimore Ravens. In those dense, factual glints and glimmers, The Blind Side finally carries weight. Alas, throughout the rest, it's Bullock charm and good faith carrying The Blind Side. She could use a trade to a better team.