The Blind Side
Directed By: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, Kathy Bates, Jae Head, Lily Collins, Ray McKinnon, Kim Dickens, Adriane Lenox
|Studio: Warner Bros. |
Film Length: 128 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Release Date: March 23, 2010
The Film ****The Blind Side tells the true story of Michael Oher (Aaron), a large, poor, illiterate teenager from a troubled family who made an improbable rise from his seemingly hopeless circumstances to achieve both academic and athletic success. His achievements are made possible along the way by gestures both large and small from friends, coaches, teachers, and tutors, but more than anyone, by the Tuohy family and its indomitable matriarch Leigh Anne (Bullock). Leigh Anne is a successful interior designer whose clients include prominent athletes. Her husband, Sean (McGraw), is a former athlete who now owns several restaurant franchises, their daughter, Collins (Collins), is a high school student and cheerleader, and their youngest child, Sean Jr - aka "SJ" (Head) is an opinionated pre-teen who apparently went to "Our Gang" finishing school. When Leigh-Anne spots Michael homeless and alone on a cold night going to the school gym, she impulsively invites him into her home. What starts as a night's charity eventually becomes much more. The Tuohy's grow closer to Michael as they begin to unravel his mysterious past. Michael's shy and reticent nature insures that this will take a while, and the absence or incompleteness of most public records relating to his family does not make it any easier. The love and support of the Tuohy family eventually allow Michael to make significant progress socially, athletically, and academically, with offers of football scholarships from almost every Southeastern Conference College. When Michael and the Tuoheys discover that he will need near perfect grades his senior year to be eligible, they find a dedicated tutor named Miss Sue (Bates) to work with him directly. Additionally, an NCAA investigation into Michael's college recruitment questions the motivations of the Tuohys in adopting Michael, suggesting that they were simply recruiting and grooming him to play football for their (and Miss Sue's) Alma Mater, The University of Mississippi.
While The Blind Side does not try to break any new ground when it comes to inspirational sports movies, it at least covers familiar ground with skill. The film also benefits from the fact that the true events and personalities on which the film is based lend themselves to dramatization without an excessive amount of license or embellishment. At the film's center is a character who is reluctant to discuss his past who comes from almost a different world than all of the rest of the characters in the film. This creates a layer of mystery on top of the sports movie skeleton of the plot that sustains viewer interest without having to rely on too many cliches such as a climactic "big game". As a matter of fact, the only extended sporting event sequence in the film occurs in the middle and dramatizes Oher's varsity football debut with no subsequent discussions or dramatization of team success or championships. The absence of conventional sports movie moments and emphasis on character-based drama did not seem to hurt the film with audiences, since it proved to be an unexpected big hit in late 2009 when it was released to generally positive reviews and apparently tremendous word of mouth support.
With the story remaining firmly rooted in the personal drama of its characters, the success of the film lies largely on the shoulders of the actors required to embody them. The assembled cast does not disappoint, with Sandra Bullock top-lining things as the indominatble Leigh Anne Tuohy. Bullock wisely chooses to underplay the role, letting her wardrobe, hair, make-up, and accent convey the more severe elements of the character. Her relatively restrained delivery of lines and reactions suggest all of the above is a "Steel Magnolia" front, supported by a couple of scenes where she discusses her self doubts with her on-screen husband. I suppose the inevitable question is "Did she deserve the Oscar she won for this performance?". I will defer the answer to that question to someone (anyone) who understands how competetive art works better than me, but her performance is certainly appropriate for the film, and moves Bullock gently but solidly outside of what was becoming her romantic comedy comfort zone.
The film's other central performance is from relative newcomer Quinton Aaron in the role of Michael Oher. While he does not look all that much like the real-life Oher, there could not have been a very large pool of actors of sufficient physical size to fill the role who were also capable of conveying the gentle nature and troubled inner life of the character with minimal dialog. Aaron acquits himself quite well in a role that could have landed falsely somewhere between "Rain Man" and "Bubba Gump", but instead suggests complexities behind his eyes that his character is reluctant, rather than unable, to express. The rest of the supporting cast are directed to perform with similar restraint with the exception of IronE Singleton as a somewhat stereotypical drug dealer/thug from Michael's old neighborhood and young Jae Head who gets to ham it up in the precocious little brother role and yet somehow remains more endearing than annoying.
A number of actual college football coaches play themselves in the movie, and while none are likely to abandon their current professions to "tread the boards" anytime soon, their presence simultaneously creates an atmosphere of verisimilitude and offers an opportunity for humor by gently lampooning the recruiting process that they all know so well.
The Video ****½The 1080p VC1 encoded video approximates the film's original theatrical ratio by filling the entire 16:9 frame. It is a very solid presentation with excellent detail and range of contrast. Colors are generally quite natural and reproduced faithfully. I saw no indications of heavy filtering or other unpleasant video artifacts. While the film generally goes for a pretty plain and naturalistic look, the sequence set at the film's center at a night time high school football game looks especially impressive with deeply saturated colors and effective lighting that convey a very realistic look for anyone who has ever attended such an event. Every last detail down to the individual blades of grass are rendered effectively by this high definition encoding.
The Audio ***½The English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track features generally excellent fidelity with a solid if not particularly dynamic mix typical of dialog driven films. The surrounds are used infrequently, usually for very low level ambient support for music and effects, with the exception of a scene close to the end of the film where sudden violence erupts. Even during the one extended football game sequence, things stay pretty subdued across the front channels with a little low-end emphasis to underline blocking and tackling hits between players. While the blu-ray would not be appropriate demo material for a surround sound system, I suspect it is consistent with the original theatrical mix. Additional dubs are available via 640 kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in French, Spanish, Portuguese.
The Extras ***All of the proper "Special Features" are presented in VC1 1080p video with DD 2.0 stereo sound:
The Real Michael Oher: An Exclusive Interview (10:03) appears at the top of the extras menu. As its title suggests, it consist entirely of an interview with Michael Oher in which he tells his story in his own words inter-cut with scenes from the film paralleling the moments in his life he is discussing. It points out a few elements where the film compresses or rearranges chronological events, but also generally illustrates how the film did not stray too far from the truth.
Under the heading of Behind the Story, are the following featurettes:
Acting Coaches: Behind the Blind Side (4:52) Looks at the real life college football coaches who played themselves in the movie. It mixes talking head interviews with relevant clips from the movie and some behind the scenes footage. The coaches seem to have a good sense of humor about their limited acting prowess, and it is genuinely impressive how many SEC coaches who were actively recruiting Oher when he was in high school were willing to play themselves in the movie. The coaches and schools they represented at the time of the film's events were Phillip Fulmer (Tennessee), Lou Holtz (South Carolina), Houston Nutt (Arkansas), Tommy Tuberville (Auburn), Nick Saban (LSU), and Ed Orgeron (Ole Miss). All of the coaches except Orgeron offer interview comments for this featurette. Additional on-camera comments are offered by Director John Lee Hancock, Executive Producer Molly Smith, and actors Ray McKinnon, Jae Head, Tim McGraw, and Sandra Bullock.
The Story of Big Quinton (13:41) is a profile of first time film actor Quinton Aaron who plays Michael Oher in the film. He tours the Bronx neighborhood where he grew up in the Bronx. Topics covered by Aaron and the friends, family, and filmmakers that make-up the other interview participants include his casting, his early performing experiences, his work as a bouncer, his childhood, his recently passed Mother, and his physical training in preparation for the part. Interview participants include Hancock, Producer Broderick Johnson, Aunt Jannie McGoogan, Friend/Theater Director Jomo Kellman, Aunt Mary Martin, Cousin Teresa Aaron, Uncle Sylvester Martin, Cousin Shinasia Aaron, Executive Producer Tim Bourne, Former Boss/Friend Roy Winston, Friend/former Co-worker Wallace “Country” Owens, Cousin Derrick Smith, Producer Andrew Kosove, Trainer Eric Ciano, Nutritionist Sasha Spencer, Bullock, Smith, and McKinnon.
Under the heading of Sideline Conversations, are the following features:
Sandra Bullock & Leigh Anne Tuohy (5:11 w/Play All) is a three part featurette consisting enirely of a conversation between actress Sandra Bullock and the real-life Leigh Anne Tuohy. Most of the time is spent expressing mutual admiration mixed with a little bit of behind the scenes information about their first meeting and the atypically welcome presence of Leigh Anne and her family on set during production. The three parts, selectable individually or via a "Play All" feature are labeled with the following self-explanatory titles:
- Becoming Leigh Anne (1:57)
- First Meeting (1:49)
- Tuohy’s on Set(1:25)
Director John Lee Hancock and Author Michael Lewis (27:37 w/Play All) is another, much more extensive one on one conversation. It can be watched in its entirety via a "Play All" feature or by selecting the following individual segments:
- Book to Screen (4:06) Focuses on the adaptation of Lewis' book for the screen
- Finding the Blind Side (4:12) discusses how Lewis came to write the book
- Gender Identity (3:27) discusses women as authority figures in the context of the film and story as well as Southern stereotypes
- Meeting Leigh Anne (3:24) covers Lewis’ first and subsequent impressions of Leigh Anne Tuohy
- Michael Oher (3:29) – discusses working with and around the reticent nature of Michael Oher
- Miracles (1:59) – discussed the series of serendipitous occurrences that led to Michael Oher’s success
- Sandra and Leigh Anne (3:13) – covers the process of how Sandra Bullock eventually embodied Leigh Anne Tuohy which was sealed by their first meeting, this time recounted from Hancock's perspective.
- Why “The Blind Side” (3:45) – covers the attraction of Hancock and Lewis to the story
Under the heading of Additional Scenes, is the following feature:
Deleted Scenes (7:08 w/"Play All"):
- I’m the Designer (1:22) – starts with a brief scene explaining how "Big Mike" came to not be living with "Big Tony’s" family and is followed by an extended scene of Leigh Anne conducting business on the phone at a school sporting event.
- Lunch Ticket (3:47)– starts with a scene where Sean decides to pay for Michael’s school lunches followed by scene of how a teacher discovers that Michael can pass exams given orally. Both of these plot points were established by short dialog exchanges in the finished film.
- Sizes (:24) – is a brief scene where the Tuohy’s get a message from Washington Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey double checking the sizes requested for a clothes donation since they are bigger than anyone on the team.
- Who You Looking For (1:34) – is an additional scene where Leigh Anne encounters a drug dealer named Alton while looking for Michael’s Mom. It sets up a later confrontation between them, but is not essential to establish either character.
When the disc is first played, the viewer is greeted with the following skippable promos presented in 1080p VC1 video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound unless indicated otherwise:
- Warner Digital Copy Promo (:55)
- Free Willy: Escape from Pirates Cove DTV Trailer (letterboxed to 16:9 in a 4:3 windowboxed frame - 2:07)
As has been the case with all Warner new release theatrical titles in 2010, The Blind Side blu-ray release comes with a Bonus DVD with Digital Copy. The DVD is a bare-bones standard definition presentation with 16:9 enhanced video and English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio ancoded at a 384 kbps bitrate. No additional language audio dubs are present, but it does come with subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish. There are no DVD extra features present. The digital copy is compatible with iTunes or Windows Media.
PackagingThe BD and SD DVD/Digital Copy disc are packaged in a standard-sized "VIVA" BD case with hubs on both inner sides allowing the accommodation of both discs. The hard case is in turn placed into a cardboard slipcover that reproduces the same art with the exception of replacing some of it with language and graphics promoting the included digital copy. Paper inserts include a sheet explaining and providing the access code for the included digital copy and the standard "This Blu-ray disc is manufactured to the highest quality..." disclaimer about player compatibility issues.
Summary ****The Blind Side succeeds by centering its "based on a true" story drama around an interestingly mysterious central character and mixing in only a few of the traditional elements associated with the sports movie genre. This success is also due to carefully modulated performances by its talented cast under the assured direction of John Lee Hancock. It manages to feel familiar without seeming stale, making it the cinematic equivalent of "comfort food". It is presented on Blu-ray with a very satisfying 1080p rendering of its naturalistic cinematography and a faithful DTS-HD MA lossless rendering of its somewhat subdued audio mix. It includes a modest collection of extra features that are neither trivial enough to be dismissed as fluff nor in-depth enough to be considered comprehensive.