Bullock really earns her Oscar

2010-03-22 00:00

SANDRA Bullock’s Oscar-winning performance in The Blind Side is certainly right up there with the best of them. The film is a feel-good, sanitised (some would say “Hollywood-ised”) story of the life of Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), who is adopted by Leigh-Anne Touhy (Bullock) into their family and goes on to be selected in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens.

Director John Lee Hancock shows a sure hand in the careful manipulation of the film, which skillfully plays on an audience’s emotions.

The integration of Michael into the family happens when Leigh Anne sees him wandering the streets in the rain and impulsively invites him to stay the night. She and her husband Sean (Tim McGraw) recognise Michael, known as Big Mike, from the school their son S.J. (the enigmatic-and-then-some Jae Head) and daughter Collins (Lily Collins) attend. One night on the couch becomes the first of many for Michael, who slowly becomes a part of the Touhy family, which turns out to be life-changing. His performance at school improves and he is finally able to show what he can do on a football field.

The skill of this film is that it never delves too deeply into the weighty issues — the moments which are scary and stirring are contrasted with moments of light relief, so that things are always steadily moving. And while the real story is Michael, the film and script is constructed to strike a balance between Michael and Leigh Anne.

Newcomer Aaron, who plays Michael, operates a little under the radar on camera, whereas Bullock is anything but low-key. She is superb in the juicy role of this Memphis yuppy mother and perfectly executes the right mix of tough love and occasional vulnerability. It’s thoroughly entertaining, and she is ably supported by McGraw who plays a likeable, supportive husband. Collins shows spunk and ignores peer pressure and embraces her new older brother Michael, while young dynamo Head provides most of the comic relief.

Undoubtedly there will be critics who will lambast this as another example of a heroic white person saving a helpless black victim. While there may be truth to it, it is not the point — which is more about human decency and economic disadvantage than it is about racial inequality. Leigh Anne helps Michael because she sees another human being suffering and reaches out to him. Others, like the coach, have ulterior motives for extending themselves.

It would have been easy to overdo some of the moments in this inspirational film, but the good feelings emerge more organically. The result is very satisfying. ****

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