Bill Trocchi
Wednesday November 18th, 2009

When a movie claims to be "based on a true story," those who actually know the story tend to greet the film with some apprehension. But in The Blind Side, director John Lee Hancock stays true to Michael Oher's remarkable journey, and the result is an inspired movie that will have broad and everlasting appeal among sports and non-sports fans alike.

Part Pretty Woman, part Remember the Titans, part The Rookie -- the latter of which Hancock directed in 2002 -- Blind Side is a sports movie that centers on something other than winning. There's no Hoosiers-like championship moment or dramatic locker room scene. Rather, the movie sticks to the real drama of Oher's life, from his childhood on the streets of Memphis to his struggles adapting to an entirely new world after a well-to-do white family from the suburbs takes him in.

The rags-to-riches theme works, of course, because it is real. Oher went from scary beginnings to the NFL, and he would not have made it without the generosity and love of Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy. This is the core of Hancock's film, though Michael Lewis' 2006 best-selling book The Blind Side: The Evolution of a Game also deals with the left tackle position's rise from anonymity to indispensability on NFL teams. Oher, who, with his amazing athleticism and awesome size was born to be an NFL left tackle, is the face for Lewis' tale.

I was fortunate enough to meet the Tuohys during filming this summer, and both Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw nail their characters. Leigh Anne is direct, put-together, and attentive, while Sean is laid-back, successful and comfortable with what life has brought him. Bullock, who spent time in Memphis with the Tuohys before filming, nails everything from the accent to the mannerisms to the determined attitude. The movie revolves around her, and she does not disappoint.

Quinton Aaron does a credible job as Oher, considering this is his first major role and he was playing a person who undergoes a transformation few can understand. Aaron portrays much emotional turmoil in few words, showing how withdrawn and suspect Oher was after his dangerous childhood. He evolves along with the movie, and audiences should immediately be drawn to the gentle giant.

The sports scenes meet the challenge of focusing on a left tackle -- no easy task. But as a football fan, I was left wanting more about how Oher learned the game and his difficulties overcoming inexperience. As the trailer shows, Leigh Anne interrupts practice one day to teach Oher what he needs to do, after which point he goes out and dominates. It's good for a laugh, but seeing how Oher truly began to tap into his vast potential -- one of the central themes of his story -- would have satisfied more.

Likewise, cameos by Nick Saban, Phil Fulmer, Lou Holtz, Ed Orgeron, Houston Nutt and Tommy Tuberville worked well, but could have been longer. Recruiting, specifically in-home visits, remain a holy grail of sorts for college football fanatics, since media are never allowed to witness what happens in the homes. Further uncovering those mysteries would have added to the film's impact in its genre.

But Hancock knows his focus, and he delivers most when exploring the relationship between the future NFL first-round pick and his new family. Potential conflicts abound -- the Tuohys' two biological children, the Tuohys' friends, the NCAA after Oher signs at Sean and Leigh Anne's alma mater -- but the film tackles them all, and the love that helped these people shines through on screen.

The movie inspires (my wife had Christmas boxes packed for needy families the next day) as much as it entertains. Lewis' book delivered a blueprint to Hancock for a feel-good story, and it does indeed feel good when you walk out of the theater. Oher protects his quarterback's blind side, and the talented Hancock protected a motivational story by sticking to a real-life script written by a caring family and a blessed athlete. The pieces were in place for a memorable movie from the start; Hancock put them together.

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