published Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

'The Blind Side' may catch you off-guard

CASEY PHILLIPS: The title of director John Lee Hancock's latest film could not have been more appropriate. After Sandra Bullock's awful performances in "The Proposal" and "All About Steve," I was fully prepared to write off "The Blind Side" as the completion of her 2009 hat trick of failures.

Instead, she blindsided me with a truly memorable role in a film that is easily the most touching I've seen this year and on par with Hancock's other sports film success story, "The Rookie."

Bullock's role as the outspoken matriarch of a wealthy Memphis family is solid, but it was the debut of Quinton Aaron as Michael "Big Mike" Oher that makes this film. Yes, Aaron is big, much like his real-life counterpart who is now a Baltimore Raven, but it's the way he nails Oher's introverted nature and quiet, fierce loyalty that makes an impression.

Critics' ratings

Casey Phillips: 5/5

Holly Leber: 5/5

Movie: "The Blind Side."

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron and Kathy Bates.

Rating: PG-13 for one scene involving brief violence, drug and sexual references.

Synopsis: A wealthy Memphis family takes in a kid from the other side of the tracks who wins over his adopted family with his gentle nature and his school with his athletic ability on the gridiron.

HOLLY LEBER: I'm a sucker for a good (emphasis on good; anything starring a post -- "Growing Pains" Kirk Cameron does not count) inspirational movie, so I was more prepared than Casey to be moved. I also love a good sports movie, despite not giving a rip about actual sports, so "The Blind Side" looked to be right up my alley.

It was.

Where has Quinton Aaron been? Watching the development that the character of Michael goes through, I found it impossible to keep from smiling through most of the film, which at two hours, six minutes, is not quite in proportion to its newfound star but close.

Hancock does a fine job with the supporting characters as well. Country singer Tim McGraw keeps pace as Bullock's husband, Sean Tuohy, and Jae Head and Lily Collins turn in fine performances as their children. Head, in particular, helps keep the film from becoming overly sentimental or maudlin. The snappy lines that come out of his freckled, bucktoothed face keep the audience laughing.

CASEY: While it could easily have turned saccharine, "The Blind Side" manages to achieve legitimate sentimentality.

Oher's real life is already compelling, so Hollywood didn't need to resort to cheap tricks to spice things up. I walked away with misty eyes and a smile on my face. When a film fires on all emotional cylinders without feeling contrived, you know it's a winner.

HOLLY: While this movie isn't going to convert me to a football fan, it does make me want to learn more about Oher's story. I tend to take "based on a true story" films with a grain of salt, as one never knows how truly legitimate the so-called facts are, but if the movie makes me want to know more, I count it as a success. This was a success.

The other thing "The Blind Side" confirmed for me: You Southerners are really out of your collective tree about college football. Strange.

CASEY: It's the Southeastern Conference, Holly. You have no idea.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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