[Review] – Won’t Back Down

12 Oct

Title: Won’t Back Down
Year: 2012
Director: Daniel Barnz
Writers: Brin Hill and Daniel Barnz
Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Holly Hunter, Oscar Isaac, Rosie Perez, Ving Rhames, Marianne Jean-Baptiste
MPAA Rating: PG, thematic elements and language
Runtime: 121 min
IMDb Rating: 4.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 32%
Metacritic: 42

The cast for Won’t Back Down is undoubtedly strong, with the two leads roles being taken on by Maggie Gyllenhaal, one of my personal favorites, and Viola Davis, who’s just always great, as well as having supporting turns by the likes of Holly Hunter and, another personal favorite of mine, Oscar Isaac. I remember watching the trailer back in May and thinking that, if this film managed to handle the topics at hand in a good way then it could turn out really nicely. It certainly had the on-screen talent to achieve that, but I was left doubtful about it all because the director, Daniel Barnz, I only knew for having done Beastly last year, and I hated that film.

So I went into the film like that, kind of hoping for something good but prepared for it being train-wreck, and it turned out just like I expected; Ms. Gyllenhaal and Ms. Davis do everything they can to make this film stand out but the direction just makes this a horrible mediocre film, not as horrible as Beastly, thankfully, but not close to being deemed anything close to average, either.

For those who don’t know this is a film that tackles the education reform, centering on the story of two determined mothers, Ms. Gyllenhaal’s Jamie, a bartender, and Ms. Davis’ Nona, a teacher herself. All they want to do is change the system of the inner-city school their kids attend, risking it all to make a difference as they stand together in front of this hard-headed bureaucracy and the corruption that’s made evident in the teacher’s union president as well as the school principal himself. As you might imagine, then, this will be a story about the friendship these two mothers develop under the same cause and their courage as determined mothers and yadda-yadda.

I honestly do believe there’s potential for a good film here because this is indeed such a hot-button issue that seems to be making headlines on a daily basis but the way it’s handled here is just utterly wrong, not only does it insist on being schmaltzy at times and not once engaging on a truly dramatic level but it really should have tried to do it with a little bit of grace and sophistication and not in a such a heavy-handed kind of way. You really need to be a good director to nail this kind of material and Mr. Barnz just thought he could make do with an utterly clichéd melodrama with a clear good-guys vs. bad-guys blueprint which he probably thought would be enough because the location would make it look gritty and realistic and get people on board.

I was very disappointed here. Mostly because I really do think a film that handles these issues is needed out there, America does need to have a film to use as a launching pad to have some difficult but necessary conversations about the state of public education in the country and while I’m super sure that everyone involved in Won’t Back Down wanted to be just that their attempts fall way flat. Not that they meant it but at the end of the day I pretty much think that they’re actually doing a bit of a disservice to those who do deal with this on a daily basis with such a broad and manipulative movie.

The lack of subtlety of it all just never works and I just hated the fact that it made it all seem so damn simplistic. Everything is just a by-the-numbers kind of thing, you always know who’s the bad guy and who’s the good guy and there comes a part in which Nona’s husband leaves her and there’s no real reason for this to happen though the movie clearly needed it to so that her kid could be without a dad for a while and to have some resolve by the end and be all schmaltzy. Those kind of horribly predictable events I was just really over, just like I didn’t once need need the sub-plot that had Jamie falling for a teacher, even if the teacher is played by Mr. Isaac who I think is a damn talented actor.

I was just really surprised that this turned out to be this bad but mostly I’m just surprised that Ms. Gyllenhaal and Ms. Davis somehow signed on to this film. They are the sole reason why I’m not failing this one, because they are still good actresses, but they don’t make up for the fact that this film is just utterly incompetent and really rather stupid, to be honest. It’s awkward in how it tries to kind of bring forth some activism with its crap-fest of inspirational gimmicks, not to mention that, narratively, I thought it was severely limited in how it presented this story as a social reality that was palpable, even though that should be the easiest part of all of this.

Won’t Back Down is a really bad movie with really good intentions. I’m not for one second doubting those intentions, it’s just that the execution is plain crap, to be honest. Yes, Ms. Gyllenhaal is still radiant as always and you know that Ms. Davis will downright nail the two or three powerhouse acting scenes she’s required to do in every movie she’s in, but the fact remains that this is a shamelessly manipulative film that doesn’t even bother all that much with veiling it’s right-wing anti-union message that isn’t all that informed it would seem. You could be, like me, of the mind that the public school system of the U.S. is, indeed, totally screwed up, but even then I’m pretty sure you’ll feel that so is this movie.

Grade: C-


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: