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The Blind Side

A Cinematic Fumble

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

In the opening sequence of The Blind Side, John Lee Hancock’s (The Alamo, The Rookie) adaptation of Michael Lewis’ 2006 (Moneyball, The New New Thing, Liar’s Poker) bestselling non-fiction book, Sandra Bullock, in full Southern accent, takes moviegoers through the play in 1985 that ended Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann’s career in the NFL.

In that play, Lawrence Taylor, a linebacker for the NY Giants, sped past slow-moving offensive tackles to reach Theismann almost effortlessly, tackling him for a loss. He also broke Theismann’s leg, gruesomely captured by television cameras. In that moment, the offensive tackle, on the quarterback’s blind side, became the second- or third-most important player on every NFL team — with a salary to match.

How exactly does that connect to the film adaptation? Lewis divided his book into alternating chapters, focusing on the evolution of the West Coast offense — masterminded by former 49ers head coach Bill Walsh — and the need to protect quarterbacks from Lawrence Taylor-like pass-rushers from injury. The other chapters in Lewis’ book and the film adaptation focus on Michael Oher (played by Quinton Aaron), a prototypical offensive tackle, who overcame poverty and homelessness as a teenager to received a football scholarship to play for the University of Mississippi and later play in the NFL.

Oher, who was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in April, was able to overcome his hardships with the help of a wealthy Christian couple, Ole Miss grads Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock) and Sean Tuohy (Tim McGraw) and their two children, S.J. (Jae Head) and Collins (Lily Collins), who took Oher in and made him a part of their family.

While The Blind Side devotes screen time to Oher’s football prowess as an offensive tackle for Wingate Christian School (actually Briarcrest), most of the focus is on Oher’s experiences as the only African-American student at a private Christian school, his attempts to obtain passing grades with the occasional help of sympathetic teachers, his homelessness after being abandoned by a caretaker, and his relationship with the Tuohy family.

Seeing a coatless Oher shambling along the road on a rainy night, Leigh Anne offers to take him in, presumably for only a night. A night becomes a week, and a week turns into months. Leigh and Sean eventually adopt Oher and, with an eye toward college and a football scholarship, bring in a tutor, Miss Sue (Kathy Bates), to help him pass his classes.

In adapting Lewis’ non-fiction bestseller, writer-director Hancock eliminated the most controversial aspects of Oher’s case: Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy’s motivation for adopting Oher. Would the Tuohys have taken him in if he wasn’t athletically gifted and a potential football star at left tackle? Hancock refuses to see or acknowledge any ambiguity, instead leaving moviegoers with a simple, simplistic answer: They did what they did first out of compassion, and later out of unqualified love.

Hancock also couldn’t resist adding voiceover narration from Leigh Anne to bookend The Blind Side, first to get the audience up to speed on the importance of the left tackle — with replays of Theismann’s injury at different angles — and later to summarize what he wants the audience to take away from The Blind Side. But that doesn’t stop him from also including multiple scenes of Leigh Anne sharing her wisdom with her husband (she always gets her way), Oher (the importance of family, football teams as families, etc.), her racist friends (who object to Oher’s presence in Leigh Anne’s home), and even Oher’s coach, Coach Cotton (Ray McKinnon), who needs pointers on how to relate to his players.

All of which leaves the obligatory credits sequence of the real Oher and the Tuohy family, including a video of the 2009 NFL draft, just one more shameless attempt to wring emotion from audiences who, by the two-hour mark, will be ready to say good-bye to The Blind Side.