Blu-ray Review: Black or White

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Writer-director Mike Binder’s Black or White is a distressingly nondescript, blah kind of movie. Kevin Costner stars as Elliot Anderson, a lawyer who (along with his wife) has been raising his granddaughter Eloise (Jillian Estell) since his daughter’s death. Things have become complicated with the sudden death of his wife, however, and now Eloise’s paternal grandmother, Wee Wee (Octavia Spencer), wants custody. If you’re unsure what direction this is all headed, check out the rather unsubtle title. Eloise is biracial. Elliot, a white man, hires his white lawyer buddy Rick (Bill Burr) while Wee Wee, a black woman, hires a black lawyer, Jeremiah (Anthony Mackie). They butt heads in court over who will be appointed legal guardian of Eloise.

Black or White Kevin Costner (380x253).jpgThere is some pleasure to be had in Costner’s endearingly gruff, world-weary performance. But Elliot is struggling with alcoholism, a disease the film treats too lightly (even when it results in temper problems directed at Eloise). But he loves his granddaughter and she loves him. There’s actually quite a bit of muddled narrative confusion early in the film as we’re left trying to figure out who died and at what point in the timeline. We know Elliot lost someone, but Binder doesn’t clearly outline his relationships to everyone. Perhaps the ambiguity was meant to represent Elliot’s own booze-addled thinking. Wee Wee loves Eloise too and wants what’s best for her, but Jeremiah strongly argues that the girl be cared for by “her own people.”

Black or White Bill Burr (380x253).jpgOf course race relations are an on-going hot button topic in the country; it would be hard for anyone to deny that, especially given recent events involving the troubling issues raised by recent police shootings and subsequent protesting and rioting. But Binder’s mild story (which claims to be based on a true story, but exactly whose story we’re never told) never seems to know what it’s trying to acccomplish. The best case Wee Wee has for raising Eloise is that Elliot’s hard drinking is a major hindrance to his parenting abilities. But he also hurls the N-word at Eloise’s deadbeat dad Reggie (Andre Holland). Elliot attempts to defend his word choice (in a court of law, no less) by citing the ol’ “that’s the word Reggie uses to describe himself” excuse. Elliot never appears to be truly racist, but this incident doesn’t help matters.

Black or White Costner Octavia Spencer (380x253).jpgOn the plus side, Russ T. Alsobrook’s cinematography gives Black or White a burnished, golden-hue. Fox’s Blu-ray presentation makes the most of this, delivering a high quality transfer that’s warm and almost painterly. Additionally, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix is excellent too, offering a relaxed mix of low-key elements, including a superb score by jazz artist Terence Blanchard. In fact, Blanchard’s music is quite possibly the most effective component of this film. Luckily Blanchard’s strikingly rich trumpet tone sounds great in this lossless mix.

The only notable supplemental feature here is “Shades of Grey,” a decently informative 24-minute ‘making of’ featurette. It’s a pretty standard look behind the scenes, but a bit more substantive than the typically fluffy, EPK-style piece. Included interview clips with the film’s principles demonstrate the firm belief that Mike Binder had something weightier in mind with Black or White than what finally came through. I suspect the replay value of Black or White will be very low for most folks, save Kevin Costner fanatics.

The Blu-ray package also includes a downloadable Digital HD copy.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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