‘The Blind Side’ defies expectations

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In the true story of "The Blind Side" (Nov. 20), a rich housewife (Sandra Bullock) takes in a homeless teen (Quinton Aaron) with a promising future in football.
Warner Bros./MCT

Sandra Bullock retrieves much of the career momentum that The
Proposal
gave her and that All
About Steve
threatened to kill with The
Blind Side
, a surprisingly smart and moving
drama about a Memphis steel magnolia who doesn’t truly bloom until she takes in
a homeless teen and gives him a life.

Bullock gives her best performance in years in service of a
John Lee Hancock (“The Rookie”) film that’s about compassion,
empathy, family and that old-time Southern religion — football. She stars as
Leigh Anne Tuohy, an upper-middle class Memphis decorator, happily married to a
successful Taco Bell franchisee (Tim McGraw), a glammed-up woman of a certain
age who is used to getting her own way.

And when she sees the very large, plainly poor black teen
(Quinton Aaron) who seems to have nowhere to go, walking aimlessly in the rain,
her better angel runs smack dab into her blunt, bluff style. Does he have a
home?

“Don’t you dare lie to me.”

As Michael Oher walks into the House Beautiful two-story
that the Tuohys call home, an odyssey begins, a journey that the Tuohy family
take with young Michael. He’s an enormous kid labeled as “slow” and
dumb, but a “gentle giant,” and a guy of such size and athleticism
that he’s a natural at a position that Leigh Anne, narrating from the Michael
Lewis book this is based on, tells us is the “second most important
position” in football — left offensive tackle. He’s the guy who protects
the quarterback from his blind side, the sacks that can cripple a guy like Joe
Theismann, as we see in the opening credits. As the story unfolds, we invest in
Michael’s struggle and we watch the Tuohys invest as well. They have his back,
and he’s their rock — protecting their blind side.

The movie’s a pretty conventional feel-good sports drama in
many ways. But Bullock and Aaron give it heart that transcends the genre.
Aaron, without much dialogue, gets across that this big, quiet, seemingly dumb
guy has a soul and native intelligence, even as he struggles with the game, the
academics and everything else at the private school he attends.

“I look and I see white everywhere,” he writes.
“White walls … and white people.”

In The Blind Side
Bullock shows us something she hasn’t trotted out as an actress — righteous
fury. Leigh Anne is a tigress defending herself and her decision to take in
this kid in racially polarized Memphis, and Bullock makes her sympathetic, a
Christian conservative who bristles at the suggestion that she’s doing this out
of “white guilt.”

McGraw gives sturdy support and has one great line,
defending his broadening horizons.

“Whoever thought we’d have a black son before we knew a
Democrat?” he says on meeting a tutor (Kathy Bates) hired to help the kid.

It meanders and stumbles more often than one would like. But
Hancock manages to turn a movie that could have been about nothing more than
“white guilt” into something that surprisingly defies expectations
and can be downright inspiring. Talk about being hit on your blind side.

‘The Blind Side’

3 stars (out of 4)

Cast: Sandra Bullock, Quinton Aaron, Tim McGraw

Director: John Lee Hancock

Running time: 2 hours 6 minutes

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

Roger Moore reviews movies for the Orlando Sentinel. Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.