A Sporting Chance

The Blind Side tells the story of an NFL rookie

The Blind Side *** Opens areawide Friday

The Blind Side belongs to a category sometimes called "white-man's burden" movies like Dangerous Minds or The Soloist, in which benevolent whites heroically rescue underprivileged black people. Accordingly, there are moments in this movie, based on the life of Baltimore Ravens rookie tackle Michael Oher, that are cringingly uncomfortable, as when Sandra Bullock — as Leigh Anne Tuohy, the affluent Southern woman who has opened her home to Oher — sashays into the kid's rough Memphis neighborhood in a tight skirt and heels to give a drug dealer a talking-to, warning him that she's packing heat. If this were fiction, it'd be as phony as Astroturf. But like those other movies, it's a true story, told with enough sensitivity to almost overcome the troubling sense of noblesse oblige.

Written and directed by John Lee Hancock, the movie is adapted from Michael Lewis' book about the 6-foot-6, 310-pound Oher's rise from homeless teenager to college graduate and sought-after pro athlete. Oher (Quinton Aaron), nicknamed "Big Mike," appears at the Briarcrest Christian School, where football coach Cotton (Ray McKinnon), noting his imposing size, endorses his admission despite low aptitude scores. Leigh Anne and husband Sean (country singer Tim McGraw) see Oher walking coatless on a chilly night. Oher says he's going "to the gym, because it's warm," and Leigh Anne, inspired by Christian charity, invites him into their palatial home. She buys him a bed, the first he's ever owned, and Oher becomes a member of the family, a protective big brother to precocious Sean Jr. (Jae Head) and cheerleader Collins (Lily Collins).

With the help of a patient tutor (Kathy Bates), Oher raises his grades and becomes a star player, avidly courted by coaches (many playing themselves) from the South's top college teams. Bullock acts her heart out as the feisty Leigh Anne. Her performance makes a character that might have been repellent — privileged, pushy and evangelical — rather endearing.

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