Partial Sight 

Sandra Bullock surprises in a would-be "Memphis" movie that isn't.

Quinton Aaron and Sandra Bullock

Quinton Aaron and Sandra Bullock

The Blind Side is a Hollywood version of the book of the same name about how a wealthy, white, East Memphis family took in a destitute black kid from the projects, saved him from a life destined for unrealized potential, and facilitated his rise to college-football prospect and eventual NFL first-rounder. The young man is Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) and the family is the Tuohys — mom Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock), dad Sean (Tim McGraw), teenage daughter Collins (Lily Collins), and son Sean Jr. (Jae Head).

The Blind Side is a deeply flawed account of what happened. Many of the film's defects are inherited from the book, though the movie excels where the book doesn't, particularly in giving Oher a voice conspicuously absent on the page. On the other hand, the book commits to explaining the true tragedy of Oher's childhood. In the film, it's only in hyper-real snatches of flashback.

The Blind Side isn't a very good Memphis movie. It was filmed in Atlanta, and in one scene, Leigh Anne is lunching with white, affluent friends when she asks them, "Have you ever been on the other side of town?" They reply as if they know exactly what she means, but of course "the other side of town" isn't a phrase rooted in the reality of Memphis.

The mistake is compounded later in the film, when Oher is talking with old acquaintances in the ghetto and they echo the line, saying they've heard he's been living with a white lady "on the other side of town." It's all reminiscent of The Rainmaker, which was a good Memphis movie with the exception of the glaring line "I'll throw that damn bottle across Union Street!"

The failing underscores a lack of depth in the film (the book, too). For a story about the confluence of race, education, money, and sports, the shades of gray aren't satisfactorily explored. And for a story about human gentrification, the personal repercussions are mostly dealt with glibly and anecdotally.

One football scene is laughably simplistic, with racist white opponents cheered on by a redneck Beardy McGee in the crowd. Another troubling scene finds Oher in the den of those leading lives he's trying to escape. They're drawn as dark grotesques who confirm the worst of white-flight-suburban fears of the urban Other.

And then there's the ever-sticky question about the purity of motive of those involved in taking Oher — a kid with no hope — to college and on to the NFL. Leigh Anne stands out as a paragon of right action. The thing that's charming about her character is that she's the same no matter what the situation is she finds herself in. She speaks with the same direct, honest, candid manner whether she's talking to her husband, a hayseed football coach, threatening "thugs" on the other side of town, or Nick Saban.

But what about the recruiting battle for Oher? The movie turns to comic relief, trotting out Saban, Fulmer, Nutt, Tuberville, Holtz, Orgeron — it's a montage of failed SEC coaching. What about the deals that had Oher's high school coach first taking a job at UT and then Ole Miss, where Oher wound up? The only package deals hinted at in the movie have Sean Jr. pressing for kid-daydream perks.

It's by no means all bad news. Bullock is quite good. I don't count myself in the pro-Bullock camp, and the idea of her going blond and ratcheting up the Southern accent curdles my brain. Well, shame on me. Bullock turns in a fine performance.

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The Blind Side
Rated PG-13 · 126 min. · 2009
Official Site: www.TheBlindSideMovie.com
Director: John Lee Hancock
Writer: John Lee Hancock and Michael Lewis
Producer: Gil Netter, Andrew A. Kosove and Broderick Johnson
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Kathy Bates, Tim McGraw, Ray McKinnon, Quinton Aaron, Ashley LeConte Campbell, Eaddy Mays and Irone Singleton

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