Won’t Back Down may be divisive for supporters of teacher’s unions, but it’s a truly uplifting drama that should remind teachers and parents alike that schools are meant to benefit the children that fill them. Maggie Gyllenhaal is on fire as Jaime Fitzpatrick, an ultimate Type A personality, who is not content to let her daughter’s school fail her. While she’s poor and undereducated, she doesn’t want her daughter to be the same, and her love for Malia is evident from the beginning.
Viola Davis also shines in a much more understated role as Nona Alberts. Most of the time she remains stoically overwhelmed, much like her brilliant Oscar-nominated performance in Doubt, but about midway through she perks up and gets some wonderful moments to both have some fun and give some frustrating people a piece of her mind. In addition, Holly Hunter plays a leader in the teacher’s union who begins to have second thoughts, and Oscar Isaac as Michael gets some good scenes defending the role of unions in the past. He also gets to sing a bit, foreshadowing his latest role in Inside Llewyn Davis, in which he sang his songs live.
Like Nona’s gradual awakening from just going through the motions to actively teaching her class, the cinematography brightens as the film progresses. At the beginning, the color scheme is so muted, it might as well be in black and white, but by the end, everything is more radiant and colorful, especially the school, reflecting the growing hope for a better school and future.
The mostly clean film is an indictment on the overregulated education “system” and a probably oversimplified solution to it, but whether you agree with its message or not, Won’t Back Down is a marvelously acted if slowly-paced film that encourages viewers to change whatever they can for the better. (By the way, Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” not only inspired the name of the movie but also earns a place in my End Credits Song Hall of Fame.)
Best line: (Nona Alberts, when urged to dance) “I haven’t danced since ‘Gettin’ Jiggy wit It,’ and I wasn’t jiggy then.”Artistry: 7 Characters/Actors: 8 Entertainment: 6 Visual Effects: N/A Originality: 7 Watchability: 7 TOTAL: 35 out of 60
Next: #261 – Joseph: King of Dreams
© 2014 S. G. Liput