Better title – Drunk or Drug-Addict.
After the recent, tragic death of his wife, Elliot Anderson (Kevin Costner) is left grieving, with nothing more than a bunch of booze and a grand-daughter named Eloise (Jillian Estell) that he has to take care of all on his own. That wouldn’t be such a rough task, if Elliot could just put down the bottle for a second, but wouldn’t you know it? Elliot not only has a problem that he can’t fix himself, but is incapable of allowing anybody else to fix it for him. But still, he treats Eloise with kindness, love and respect – like all pop-pops should. There should be no problem with that, except for the fact that Eloise’s other grand-mother, Rowena (Octavia Spencer), wants her to spend more time at her place; something Elliot is not quite a fan of due to the “economic environment” that they surround themselves with. Not to mention that Elliot isn’t on good terms with Eloise’s father, aka, Rowena’s son (Andre Holland). Rowena wants to be around her grand-daughter more and decides that it’s time to take the situation to court, where her lawyer brother (Anthony Mackie) will try and push the case more towards Elliot’s racist-tactics, even if they aren’t there to begin with.
It would seem a little risky for someone like writer/director Mike Binder (meaning, someone who is white), to tackle a film that deals with racial injustices and the certain stereotypes each race sets out for the other. That’s not to say Binder himself shouldn’t make a movie that deals with these issues, but considering the type of tension going around our society currently, to say anything bad about any race whatsoever, let alone African Americans, it would almost seem like a death-warrant. Sometimes, these movies need to be made, and other times, they don’t.
In this case, Black or White did not need to be made. Which isn’t to say because it criticizes certain aspects to black people’s culture (because it definitely criticizes white people as well), but it’s because it so clearly is trying not to offend anyone, of any particular race, gender, or belief, that it tip-toes its way back to the starting line and feels like it’s playing it all way too safe. Now, I didn’t need a totally scathing-outlook on white, or black cultures; however, what I did need was a compelling story that was willing to take charge with the points it wanted to make and actually saw them through. More or less, Binder presents them, alludes to them on certain occasions, but hardly ever takes that extra mile to actually address them in a way that would bring forth some discussion or any bit of controversy to what he’s saying.
There’s an elephant in the room throughout all of Black or White (which is racial-relations and who is right, and who is wrong), and Binder seems to constantly avoid going further and further in-depth about it.
But that’s not to say all of Black or White is poorly-done, because it seems like whenever Binder focuses on the actual story itself, he has a clear head of what he wants to say and how. Normally, this means that Binder’s trying to say Kevin Costner’s character, Elliot, while not perfect or fully-equipped to be the father that this little girl need or deserves, he’s still trying and that’s all that matters. And because of that certain element to his character, Costner is allowed to dig deep into what makes this character tick, and just get by in this world. It’s a shame that the movie constantly wants to have Costner’s character drinking some sort of alcoholic beverage in nearly every scene, because when he doesn’t seem to be too tuned-up on the hair of the dog that bit him, Elliot seems like a genuinely sweet, kind man.
However, too often than not, Binder uses Elliot as the butt of his own joke; the same joke where everybody says he looks, acts, and talks like a drunk, which is true, because he is. It’s hardly ever funny, and not because alcoholism is something not to be joked around about, but because the way it’s done here feels so obvious and tacked-on. In fact, there’s many moments where Binder’s film never makes a clear decision of whether it wants to be a comedy, or a drama. Certain lines a character says, while may speak some heartfelt truth, sort of comes off as a joke that Binder is using to lighten-up the mood when everything else here seems to be getting too hot, heavy and dramatic for the crowd watching in their seats.
Most of these moments come from Octavia Spencer’s Rowena, who I not only found incredibly grating to listen to, but came off as something of a caricature after awhile of what Binder imagines most black men and women’s momma’s to be. Rowena is constantly hootin’, hollerin’, and forgetting to hold her tongue when she knows she should and is always sticking up for her boy, even though she knows he’s not the right fit to be a father in the first place. The film actually references this and shows that Rowena does not in fact want to take Eloise away from Elliot in the first place, but much rather perform a dual-custody type of situation, however, she still treats him like she can’t trust him at all with her baby-girl and wants nothing more than to win this case, and kick the dirt right up in his face. It’s actually quite strange how she acts towards him, both before, during, and after the case, and it’s a shame that Spencer is thrown through such a haywire-of-a-role.
She clearly deserves better. As does everybody else in here.
But what it all comes down to with this movie, meaning, the only reason to see this movie for any reason whatsoever, is Costner’s performance. He reveals certain shades, dimensions and aspects to this character that maybe weren’t at all even alluded to in the original-script, but Costner is somehow able to bring to the table. If you want a better example of this, check out one of his final scenes in the courtroom by the end, where he makes it clear that every action he made, for himself and for Eloise, was specifically out of love and adoration, and not out of spite. The movie wants us to see this character as something of a troubled human-being that deserves to at least give up his reigns as Eloise’s sole-provider, but for me, what I saw was, yes, a troubled-man, but one who clearly had the best intentions with everything he did, and everything that he planned on doing. He’s like many men I know in my life, most importantly, my own father.
Such a shame he didn’t get a better movie. Sorry, dad. I mean, Kev. Yeah, Kevin Costner’s not my dad.
Just disregard all that.
Consensus: Writer/director Mike Binder is dealing with some interesting issues in Black or White, but never seems to express them in a thought-provoking way that doesn’t feel preachy, or over-the-top, even if it does get by a tad bit on a great performance from Kevin Costner.
4.5 / 10 = Rental!!