I feel like any time that a filmmaker wants to tackle big picture topics in American society like class, or wealth, or race, there has to be a strong confidence in the source material to do it. And quietly, I think that some of that confidence shows when it comes to the film Black or White. But if so, I'm truly left wondering what, or where, it is.
The film is written and directed by Mike Binder, and reunites him with Kevin Costner, who starred in the Binder film The Upside of Anger. Costner is Elliot, a grandfather who is raising her granddaughter Eloise with his wife (his daughter had died previously) and now Elliot's lost his wife, and finds himself alone. But not completely, as Eloise's grandmother Rowena (Octavia Spencer, Get On Up) wants to be a part of her granddaughter's life. Elliot objects to this and Rowena thinks it's because Elliot is a racist. Soon the courts are involved and the wear and tear on all involved begins to show.
There are moments within Black or White that tug at the heartstrings and prove to be emotional, and Costner does a fine job with them, even if they are maybe a tad overblown with the appropriate musical cues. Bill Burr (The Heat) plays Elliot's friend Rick with a degree of conviction and surprising depth to boot. Witnessing Elliot's evolution in his feelings and his overall lack of preparedness to assume the role of sole provider for Eloise results in one of the better performances of Costner's in recent memory. The film does well to invest in the shared feelings of loss by Elliot and Rowena, such that when it starts to broach Elliot's feelings about race, perceived or otherwise, it ventures out into that particular wilderness admirably. One could sense some of these conversations happening in more places than you might think.
When it begins to try and incorporate them into the characters lives is where things start to get a little bit sticky, even bordering on soap operatic. Eloise's long lost father returns (he had been absent due to issues with the law and with drugs), and he's used as a bit of a pawn in this strange battle between the white grandpa and the black grandma. Binder may have stumbled into a component where their battle leaves others in their wake and does that effectively, with Eloise (played by Jillian Estell) starting to rebel towards her grandpa, or at least as much as one could expect. Her father Reggie (Andre Holland, 42) is a slightly different case. The effect on him takes a bit of a turn, shall we say.
This basically means that Reggie sets some events in motion that make the ending of Black or White less so. It makes them blind; things like common sense, reality and believability get chucked out of the window, and the last 15 minutes of the film are one that wants to tie things up in a below, regardless of anything that was done beforehand that made sitting through the film worthwhile. Rather than mull these abstract discussions on race, the film tries to get back towards more tangible storytelling, and damages the foundation as a result.
It would have been nice to see Black and White stay more blurred and focus on the discussions that it had at its heart. But it wanted to also become a modern-day retelling of Kramer vs. Kramer with a slight twist (paraphrasing Binder), resulting in a film that is hard to take seriously. It wanted the best of both worlds, and fails noticeably.The Blu-ray Disc:
Black or White is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen on Blu-ray with the AVC codec and things are mighty sharp. You can spot textures on a conference room floor (buff marks?) and detail in tighter shots like Costner or Spencer's expressions. Colors and flesh tones all appear accurate and vivid without being oversaturated, black levels are consistent thoughout, and there were minimal instances of haloing. One cannot accuse Black or White of looking ugly when it comes to visuals.The Sound:
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless track is quite active for a film of this nature. Dialogue is clear through the feature and the film makes as much use of the soundstage as possible, whether it is with musical cues or in a moment when a character is underwater, sounds as dynamic as can be expected. Quite strong and well-balanced for this little film, nice job Fox.Extras:
The main extra on the disc is "Shades of Gray" (23:54), which serves as the making of feature for the film. Costner talks about how he came to the material, and Binder, Spencer and Mackie share likewise, as they talk about what they think the story is, and the thoughts on the characters they portray and the others in the film. Each share their thoughts on the actors and director, and Costner's decision to finance the film. It is an interesting piece but forgettable. Two small featurettes on Costner (2:03) and the themes in the story (2:13) round things out, along with a trailer (2:17) and a digital copy if you want it.Final Thoughts:
At two hours, the familial conflict/race relation discussion that Black or White has is long, not entirely deep, and the most effecting moments are the ones that set up the story, rather than the story itself. Technically, Fox has put in another stellar job on the Blu-ray, even if the extras are scant. If you want better storytelling and/or mulling on race, check out Crash. Or a prime time drama I guess, either is doing a better job than this film does.