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The Blind Side (Blu-ray)
Warner Brothers / 2009 / 128 Minutes / Rated PG-13
Street Date: March 23, 2010
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Reviewed by David Krauss
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Most people would agree Sandra Bullock gave the best acceptance speech at the 82nd annual Academy Awards, but did she really give the year's best performance? That's a topic Meryl Streep's legion of fans would love to debate, yet even the staunchest supporters of the 16-time nominee would be loath to begrudge Bullock her Best Actress win, one of the most popular in Oscar's storied history. While there's no denying almost everyone loves Sandy (although she severely tested our collective affection with her well-deserved Razzie-winning turn in the cringe-inducing 'All About Steve'), it's often hard to divorce her bubbly personality from the parts she plays. Where Bullock ends and the role begins has often been difficult to pinpoint over the years, which may explain why she's never before been recognized by the Academy. Yet in 'The Blind Side,' the first film in which the actress tackles a true-life character, Bullock all but buries her patented screen persona. Portraying Leigh Anne Tuohy, a tough Tennessee wife and mother who opens her home and heart to a destitute black high school student, forced Bullock to venture outside her comfort zone and shed her own skin. Such a challenge required a huge leap of faith, but given the rewards her work has reaped, it's a safe bet Bullock still hasn't come down to Earth. I'd also wager a tidy sum that years from now her performance will still be deemed worthy of the gold statuette, despite the sentimental waves that swept her to the stage on Oscar night. Yes, she's that good.
What impresses most about Bullock's portrayal is that it contains no showy, award-baiting elements – no hysterics, no breakdowns, no tirades. (Her character, in fact, a true "steel magnolia," tries her best to suppress her feelings…at least those that provoke tears.) So there's no "aha" moment during the film that makes one say, "That's what won her the Oscar." Hers is merely a solid, consistent, convincing performance that strikes all the right notes. Just as we often believe Streep is Julia Child in 'Julie & Julia,' we also believe Bullock, perhaps to a greater extent, is Leigh Anne Tuohy, despite the fact – or maybe because – Tuohy is a much less recognizable figure. Did Child's notoriety make Streep's job more difficult? Of course. But Bullock's work required just as much preparation and, in many ways, is no less remarkable.
But enough about Sandra. Football also plays a big role in 'The Blind Side,' but it's only a small part of this well-made, absorbing family drama that chronicles the improbable journey of Michael Oher (pronounced "oar," like the paddle) from the Memphis ghetto to a scholarship at Ole Miss. Homeless, adrift, and socially and intellectually withdrawn, the 6'-10", 300-pound Michael – a gentle giant if there ever was one – is rescued from the streets one chilly evening by tough, blunt, well-to-do designer Leigh Anne Tuohy (Bullock); her good-guy husband Sean (Tim McGraw), who "owns like a million Taco Bells"; and their two children, Collins (Lily Collins) and S.J. (Jae Head), both of whom attend the same parochial school as Michael. Although initially, Leigh Anne only plans to house Michael for a few days, a mutual attachment quickly develops, and soon this upper-class white Southern family completely (and improbably) embraces this impoverished black teen, and seeks to become his legal guardian. The Tuohys also introduce Michael to football, and after a rocky start, he finds his gridiron groove as a left tackle (whose job is to protect the quarterback's blind side), and before long catches the attention of dozens of college coaches who hotly compete for his commitment. But once Michael makes a decision, the NCAA smells a rat and instigates an investigation into his story for possible improprieties.
'The Blind Side' shares much in common with another tale of an overweight, troubled, neglected, academically challenged black teenager. But whereas 'Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire' wears its inspiring message on its sleeve and adopts the syrupy tone of episodic television drama, the equally stirring and uplifting 'Blind Side' takes a much more straightforward, no-nonsense approach and, as a result, possesses a solid big-screen feel. Writer-director John Lee Hancock wisely lets the story speak for itself, and forgoes such manipulative trimmings as swelling orchestrations and cathartic speeches to wring an emotional response. Viewers might still get a little misty-eyed from time to time, but any tears emanate from the film's simple, innate power, rather than any sly machinations.
Hancock is no stranger to such material, having brought the same engaging, stand-up style to the popular Disney flick, 'The Rookie,' which focuses much more on baseball than 'The Blind Side' does on football. But the comparison is noteworthy, because both pictures break free from the constraining mold that sabotages many true-life sports yarns by concentrating on personal growth instead of – but not at the expense of – athletic success. Hancock makes sure we realize football didn't save Michael; the Tuohys did. And football doesn't define Michael either; the Tuohys' faith and love does, just as Michael's love helps define the Tuohys. Though it may be marketed as such, 'The Blind Side' isn’t really a story about an underprivileged kid who earns a collegiate scholarship and becomes a top NFL draft pick; it's a story about a caring family that widens its boundaries in an unusual way and changes a young man's life – just as he changes theirs – for the better.
Some have called 'The Blind Side' a "Christian" movie or an "Oprah" movie, and claim its appeal stems from white upper-middle-class guilt over not giving enough of ourselves, personally and monetarily, to the needy. Granted, most of us might not do what Leigh Anne and her family do in this film, yet watching their story play out, the argument goes, somehow eases our inherent sense of selfishness and inertia, and/or prompts a call to action. I say hogwash! (Actually, I say something a little more colorful, but we can't print it here.) Yes, there may be religious overtones in 'The Blind Side' (there's no denying it's a pretty miraculous tale), but only the viewer can make such a correlation if he or she chooses. (Let me tell you, there's no ray of light shining down on Leigh Anne like the one casting a heavenly glow on Glenn Close in 'The Natural.') And if the movie does motivate someone to get off their duff and make a difference in the community, then more power to it. But again, that's up to the individual, and most likely 98 percent of viewers will merely ingest the film's warmth, reflect on its goodness, and go back to their self-absorbed lives.
Inspirational movies are great as long as they don't try to shove their agenda down the audience's throat or slant situations to evoke specific emotional responses. 'The Blind Side' does neither of those things. What we see is what we get, and what we get is an entertaining, affecting, well-made movie whose appeal spans various age groups, backgrounds, and viewpoints. Like its admirable main character, it never tries to pull the wool over our eyes. And like its lead actress, it's a film that's almost impossible to dislike.
Warner provides a lush, beautifully modulated transfer that at times possesses an old Hollywood feel. The 1080p/VC-1 encode is distinguished by excellent clarity and contrast, but the image maintains a film-like feel, thanks to a delicate, unobtrusive grain structure that supplies marvelous texture. Though the palette remains predominately natural, colors are deep and vivid, especially foliage greens and the bright, bold hues of Michael's rugby shirts. Inky black levels supply good depth, and fleshtones are generally accurate. (At times, Bullock's face adopts an orangey glow, but that's more due to her makeup than any transfer anomaly.) Fine details, such as the roughness of the school's brick facing, come through exceptionally well, and razor sharp close-ups lend the picture welcome pop and dimensionality. Reflections on car windows are crystal clear, but never look artificially doctored, and nary a speck or scratch mucks up the pristine source print.
Best of all, no banding, edge enhancement, or digital noise could be detected, making this top-notch effort from Warner a true visual treat.
Because of its football sequences, 'The Blind Side' possesses a bit more sonic oomph than similar family dramas, but the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track – though perfectly clean and full-bodied – rarely excites the senses. Most of the sound remains anchored in the front channels, and some faint stereo separation adds a touch of aural interest. Surround activity, however, is severely limited, with the rears only coming alive during the football games, and even then, the crowd noise lacks sufficient presence. The subwoofer kicks in when the players ram into one another, nicely punctuating the full-body hits, but otherwise stays silent.
Of course, the film's bread-and-butter is its dialogue track, and nothing clouds our understanding of the conversations, even when Michael mumbles. Dynamic range is always wide enough to make distortion a non-issue, and both Carter Burwell's music score and the Tim McGraw song that runs over the end credits enjoy fine fidelity and fill the room well. All in all, this is a very satisfactory track that suits the movie, but lacks any bells and whistles.
Most of the extras are high-def exclusives (see below). The only supplement included on both the Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film is a selection of deleted scenes. An audio commentary would have been nice (Bullock anchored a humdinger of a track for 'All About Steve'), but sadly one was not recorded.
- Deleted Scenes (HD, 7 minutes) – Four cut scenes flesh out the story a bit more, and while they're well acted and directed (and a cut above most excised sequences from other films), they're certainly not essential to the movie. Worth a look, though, for sure.
- Theatrical Trailer (HD) – There's no trailer for 'The Blind Side,' but there is one for 'Free Willy: Escape from Pirate's Cove.'
A solid offering of exclusive high-def material sweetens this Blu-ray release.
- Exclusive Interview: "The Real Michael Oher" (HD, 10 minutes) – This interview allows Michael Oher himself to touch upon aspects of his story depicted in 'The Blind Side.' Oher comes across as a bit tougher than his on-screen portrayal, but his gentle, likeable qualities still shine through. The highly regarded left tackle talks about attending high school, his relationships with both Leigh Anne Tuohy and his tutor, Miss Sue (played by Kathy Bates in the film), and his college recruitment experience, among other topics, in this interesting companion piece.
- Featurette: "Acting Coaches: Behind The Blind Side" (HD, 5 minutes) – This breezy featurette focuses on the real-life college football coaches who portray themselves in the film, and how they adapted to a foreign medium. Colorful South Carolina coach Lou Holtz makes some especially amusing comments about his participation, and on-set footage shows a few of the awkward moments these non-actors endured.
- Featurette: "The Story of Big Quinton" (HD, 14 minutes) – Before his discovery, the life of actor Quinton Aaron mirrored that of Michael Oher in many ways, and this interesting featurette, which includes remarks from family members, friends, former bosses, and his 'Blind Side' colleagues, charts his inspiring odyssey from poverty to movie actor. We also learn about Aaron's commitment to the role of Michael, and how playing the part deeply influenced and changed his life.
- "Sideline Conversations" (HD, 32 minutes) – A series of dialogues between Sandra Bullock and Leigh Anne Tuohy (totaling five minutes) and writer-director John Lee Hancock and author Michael Lewis (totaling 27 minutes) about various aspects of 'The Blind Side' and its production. Bullock and Tuohy chat about their first meeting, the difficult Southern accent Bullock needed to adopt for the role, and the excitement the Tuohys brought to the set. The conversations between Hancock and Lewis are more substantive and captivating, and touch upon the genesis of the 'Blind Side' book (Lewis was a high school buddy of Sean Tuohy), the film's plethora of strong women, their respective impressions of Leigh Anne Tuohy (whom we learn was raised in an extremely racist household), the soft-spoken nature of Michael Oher, the reluctance of Bullock to come on board, and what attracted both men to the project. Without question the best extra on the disc, these discussions are well worth the time invested and add to one's appreciation of the film.
- Digital Copy/DVD Copy – A second disc houses a DVD copy of the film, as well as a digital copy, which facilitates the transfer of 'The Blind Side' to portable players via iTunes or Windows Media Player.
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Better than the bulk of both against-all-odds sports movies and soul-nourishing family dramas, 'The Blind Side' reflects the resolution and sugar-free warmth of its central characters, avoiding cheap sentiment and over-the-top heroics to become a supremely satisfying film. Few phony notes disrupt this tale of unconditional love and acceptance that features the finest work of Sandra Bullock's career. Excellent video, solid audio, and a nice selection of exclusive-to-Blu-ray supplements make this a quality disc that may even be worthy of a "blind" buy.
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