Faith, Family, and Football for urban faith

THANKSGIVING GRACE: After taking in homeless teenager Michael Oher, the Tuohy family rediscovers the importance of sitting at the table together. Photos courtesy of Alcon Entertainment/Warner Bros.

Part drama, part sports flick, part urban exposé, The Blind Side tells the inspiring true story of NFL star Michael Oher and the white family who transformed his life — and had theirs transformed as a result.

Ever since I saw the trailer for The Blind Side a few months ago, I’ve been eagerly anticipating its release but had a couple concerns. Could Sandra Bullock handle a more dramatic role? Could this film portray an inspiring true story without feeling like the Hallmark Channel’s movie of the week? Fortunately, I saw an advanced screening of the film and was not disappointed.

Based on the book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis, this film brings to life the true and triumphant story of pro football player Michael Oher. As a black teen on the streets of Memphis, Michael is taken in by the Tuohys, a white and wealthy Christian family that helps him achieve success both academically and athletically.

Lewis’s book weaves Oher’s inspiring story together with a sober look at the college sports machine, tactical and economic trends in the NFL game, and the strange serendipity that often determines who makes it and who doesn’t. The film’s primary concern is the relationship between Oher and the Tuohy family.

Faith, Family, and Football for urban faithBullock’s feisty performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy is one of her best, if not the best of her career to date (her dramatic turn in Crash was solid, but brief). It truly is an achievement on her part. She has noticeably grown as an actress in this role and takes her craft to a new level. Is it Oscar-worthy? Maybe. Initially it doesn’t feel like an artsy, Oscar-caliber performance, but it’s very good. The rest of the cast, which includes Tim McGraw and Kathy Bates, is solid. Newcomers Quinton Aaron (who plays Michael) and Jae Head (who plays the youngest Tuohy child, S.J.) hold their own and provide some of the film’s most humorous moments with their brotherly rapport.

Unlike sports movies such as Remember the Titans or Facing the Giants, this film does not rely heavily on game-time action. Instead, it’s an entertaining mix of sports, drama, and comedy. Relationships and values, along with the importance of education, are key themes.

The film’s sentiments and heartfelt moments feel natural and believable. Writer-director John Lee Hancock’s script uses Christian themes without coming across as preachy. Instead, he focuses on the actions of the characters and their motivations.

Unfortunately, toward the end of the film, it seems Hancock is uncertain about how and where he should actually conclude the story. This unevenness reflects the film’s sometimes schizophrenic mood swings: Is it a light family drama, an inspirational sports flick, or a gritty look at inner-city poverty and dysfunction? Of course, there’s no reason why the movie shouldn’t aspire to be all of these things, and The Blind Side pulls it off most of the time. However, the film’s latter portion would’ve benefited from a tighter, more focused narrative.

Still, The Blind Side‘s virtues far outweigh any of its narrative flaws. I especially enjoyed the concepts of faith and mission throughout the film. Several characters do things in the name of “Christian duty,” but not all are truly sincere. Even when intentions are pure, outsiders question the motives of Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, which leads them to doubt themselves. Though I wish this theme would’ve been developed more throughout the entire storyline, I’m glad it was addressed because it is a very relatable and real concern that many of us experience in our efforts to live out our faith by giving and serving others.

Some may initially write this off as another “white family saves the day for a black kid” story, but the film isn’t really about that. Sure, this is technically one aspect of the movie, but what makes this story different is that it really happened. The Blind Side not only shows how the Tuohy family was a blessing to Michael, but how Michael was a blessing to the Tuohys.

Michael Oher is currently a star right tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. And no matter what NFL team you ordinarily support, believe me, it will be hard for you to root against Oher once you’ve seen this movie.

The Blind Side hits theaters nationwide this weekend, and I highly recommend it. It’s funny, uplifting, and thoughtful on many levels — a definite must-see during this Thanksgiving season.

The Blind Side: Rated PG-13, for one scene involving brief violence, drug, and sexual references. There’s some minor language, but it’s usually rebuked by characters within the film; 128 minutes long.
Opens: Friday, Nov. 20
Released by: Alcon Entertainment/Warner Bros.
Written and Directed by: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Quinton Aaron, Tim McGraw, Kathy Bates

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