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Review: Black or White

For the past few years, Kevin Costner seems to have been on autopilot. He has clearly been taking roles solely for the paycheck, and has turned in uninspired performances. This is not the case in Black or White, a film that Costner himself produced.

Costner plays Elliot Anderson, a recently widowed man caring for his biracial granddaughter Eloise (Newcomer Jillian Estell). After her son’s return, Eloise’s paternal grandmother Rowena (Octavia Spencer) fights for full custody of her granddaughter. When the custody battle heats up, both sides of the family are quick to bring race into play, in a battle that is more than simply black or white.

The film is led by strong performances from Costner and Spencer, but for the most part avoids breaking new ground on the issue of race. Writer-director Mike Binder plays it safe, avoiding anything visually or textually stimulating. Even though there is nothing new going on plot-wise, viewers are still rewarded with a classic Costner speech towards the end of the film, which contains some interesting remarks on how we interact with those of the opposite race.

Most importantly, the film avoids stereotyping its own black characters, which could be a concern for a film both written and directed by a white man. Spencer’s Rowena is a fully developed character, flawed but with sincere intentions. This is certainly a step up from the loud in-your-face characters we are used to seeing her play.

It is undeniable that Binder’s script is weak; luckily, he has been graced with great actors who ultimately save his film. Black or White does not address anything we haven’t heard before, but it starts a conversation about race, and that is good enough.

[star v=3]

Matt Hoffman

Matthew Hoffman is a Toronto-based cinephile who especially enjoys French films and actresses over the age of 50; including but not limited to: Isabelle Huppert, Meryl Streep, and Jacki Weaver.