Starring: Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Jillian Estell, Andre Holland, Anthony Mackie, Bill Burr, Mpho Koaho, Gillian Jacobs, Jennifer Ehle, Paula Newsome
Directed By: Mike Binder
The last time Costner and Binder collaborated, it was on the underrated The Upside Of Anger. I’ve enjoyed Binder’s work. Upside Of Anger was one of the best films the year it came out, and he pulled a rather exceptional performance out of Adam Sandler in Reign Over Me. Here, he’s pulled another exceptional performance from Kevin Costner, hit another one out of the park for Octavia Spencer, and brought Andre Holland in a greater light.
This is easily one of the best performances Costner has ever given. It’s sort of part of why Costner has been having a resurgence in Hollywood lately, getting more film offers after having a little drought. Black or White is a friendly reminder of the charisma and ease he brings to a role, and how effortless he makes everything seem. Octavia Spencer is always good in sassy roles, and is showcased well here. Despite the fact that she’s being cast as a grandmother at only 45, and the fact that her son is played by Holland who is only 9 years younger than her. In Hollywood, age is relative, but it must suck to be cast so old already in your career. For what its worth, Holland himself is supposed to only be 30, but is actually 36. So they’re trying to downplay his age.
The film, about a grieving grandfather who has just lost his wife, and is struggling to raise his granddaughter is a little preachy in parts. When Costner finally drops the N-word, it’s so obvious that will come back and bite him in the ass. Except… it really doesn’t. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this film isn’t actually about racial struggles at all. Sure, he used the word, but he used it to prove a point and wake someone up. Everything else in the movie suggests that he’s not racist, and the movie isn’t about that. So, even though the film is called “Black Or White”, it should really be called “My Daughter Was Impregnated By An Abusive Crackhead Six Years Older Than Her, And We Just Don’t Think Having Him Around Is A Great Idea.” That’s a long title though. How about “Crackhead Or Drunkard”? No?
I’d say the film plays it safe. Binder might have been afraid to open too many doors, but because of that the film loses its weight. Which is a shame, because the film is so well crafted by its actors that it could have easily handled the weight. Instead of making a Losing Isaiah moment, we have a movie with the tonal impact of a Hallmark Hall Of Fame, just with some really special performances. And for what its worth, Jillian Estell is perfect. I hope we see more from this gifted child actress.
A decision to keep the film muted hampers the film from greatness, and instead of being something memorable, it winds up somewhere as a film destined to be forgotten in time. In 10 years, most people will have forgotten this film existed. In 20? Well, did you even remember Losing Isaiah until I mentioned it?
FINAL GRADE: B