Sandra Bullock retrieves much of the career momen tum that The Proposal gave her and that All About Steve threatened to kill with The Blind Side, a surprisingly smart and moving drama based on the true story of 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 film directed by John Lee Hancock (The Rookie) 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," she warns.
Learning that he's homeless, Leigh Anne takes him in.
As Michael Oher walks into the House Beautiful two-story that the Tuohys call home, an odyssey begins, a journey that the Tuohy family takes with young Michael. He's an enormous kid labeled as "slow" and dumb, but a "gentle giant."
And he has such size and athleticism that he's a natural at a position that Leigh Anne, narrating from the Michael Lewis book on which this is based, 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 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, with little dialogue, gets across that this big, quiet, seemingly dumb guy has a soul and native intelligence, even as he struggles with the game, academics and everything else at the private school he attends.
"I look and I see white everywhere," he writes. "White walls ... and white people."
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. Bullock makes her sympathetic, a Christian conservative who bristles at the suggestion 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.
The movie 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.