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Black or White (2014)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/5/2015
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/6/2015
Studios love to manipulate when their movies are going to be released. Now, more than ever before, locking down a specific release date is a huge deal. You can't read entertainment news without seeing a story about a movie (typically a big, summertime tent-pole film) which has been slated for a day several years in the future. However, sometimes the perfect release date is simply a matter of dumb luck. You can't turn on the news these days without seeing a story about race (Which seems ridiculous given that it's 2015. Shouldn't all of this be behind us by now?). Be it racial violence or inequality, this is a hot-button issue. While this is clearly not a good thing, how lucky for the makers of Black or White that their film, which focuses on race, come out at this time?
As Black or White opens, Elliot Anderson (Kevin Costner) is dealing with some devastating news -- His beloved wife has died due to injuries received in an automobile accident. This leaves Elliot alone to raise their grand-daughter, Eloise (Jillian Estell). This is a challenge, as Elliot has never been in charge of her before and he's allowed his grief to increase his intake of alcohol. But, Elliot tries his best, enlisting Duvan Araga (Mpho Koaho) to help tutor Eloise. Eloise's paternal grandmother, Rowena (Octavia Spencer), enters the picture, demanding that Eloise now come live with her, despite the fact that Eloise's biological father, Reggie (Andre Holland), is a former drug addict who has harassed the Anderson's in the past. Elliot has no intention of letting Eloise go and when the matter goes to court, the question of race and prejudice comes up.
As noted, Black or White sounds like something which was ripped from today's headlines and the credits do state that the film is "Inspired by True Events" (although we never learn what that means, as there's nothing about it in the extras). So, one would assume that it would be crackling with drama and emotion, right? But it doesn't. The movie is tepid and thick-headed from the get-go and it never delivers on the implied power of the plot.
As the film opens, Elliot learns that his wife has succumbed to her injuries, but he must carry on and get Eloise ready for school. Now this girl is 6 or 7 years old and has lived with the Andersons her entire life. But, Elliot knows nothing of her morning routine and is baffled by every step of the process. What kind of absentee grandfather is he? In all of those years he's never been home in the morning once? We learn that he's a lawyer, but we never see Elliot go to work. (Yes, it's implied that he's on sabbatical, but still...) This non-senscial opening doesn't do the movie any favors, as the story never feels like it fully develops.
Writer/Director Mike Binder has decided that Black or White needs to be a slow-burn, which is a huge mistake. First of all, it takes too long to learn why Eloise was being raised by her grand-parents. Then, it takes too long to meet Rowena. Then, it takes too long to meet Reggie and learn his story. Some movies benefit by having the story unfold slowly, but this isn't one of them. We know that things are going to come to a head and when the trial finally arrives, it feels as if the movie has been on for hours. (And at 122 minutes, this movie is way too long.)
Pacing and logic issues aside, the most surprising thing about Black or White is how cold and emotionless it is. Perhaps it's because it takes so long to get to know the characters. Perhaps it's because the movie wants to make race an issue...while at the same time trying to avoid making race an issue. The movie never gives us a valid reason for Eloise to live with Rowena, save for the ract that Rowena wants her to. All that I know is that the movie never once tugged at my heartstrings. Elliot is unlikable. Rowena is underwritten. Everyone else is a stereotype. I can't believe that the man who made Indian Summer made this.
Black or White can't decide if alcoholism is a bad thing or not on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 27 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no distracting grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very good and the picture is never sort. The depth is fairly good. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a drama, we don't get a lot of dynamic audio effects here. Street scenes provide some mild stereo and surround effects, which a few musical cues offer a hint of subwoofer action.
The Black or White Blu-ray Disc contains a few extra features. "Shades of Gray: The Making of Black or White" (24 minutes) is a fairly-standard featurette, save for the moments where Costner is followed around the set. Otherwise, we get comments from Binder and the cast, some on-set footage and a lot of clips from the movie. The majority of the interviews deal with the film's themes or the actors. There is also some talk about filming in New Orleans. "Kevin Costner Featurette" (2 minutes) is a very brief promo piece which is comprised mostly of clips and a few soundbytes. "Family First Featurette" (2 minutes) offers more of the same. The final extra is a THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long