Actors: Bill Burr, Kevin Costner, Anthony Mackie
Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, DTS Surround Sound, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English (DTS 5.1)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: May 5, 2015
Run Time: 122 minutes
Though never horrendous enough to destroy the film’s excellent qualities, there are enough flaws within Black and White to make the film feel manufactured and insincere. Despite some great performances by the adult leads, the screenplay backs the conflict into a corner so that only an unbelievable bit of melodrama can neatly tie up the ending for resolution. While this is somewhat forgivable, what is most upsetting is how the larger issues of race are glossed over in favor of the Lifetime-movie domestic clichés that involve alcoholism, drug abuse, and a near drowning to provide the antagonist a moment of contrived redemption.
Writer/director Mike Binder returns to familiar topics of grief and family melodrama with Black or White, opening the film up in the hallway of a hospital just moments after Elliott Anderson (Kevin Costner) has been informed of his wife’s death. Carol (Jennifer Ehle), though only seen in flashback, carries a great significance in the storyline and in the lives of all of the characters left behind, especially her granddaughter, Eloise (Jillian Estell). After a tragic mishap during childbirth, Elliott and Carol’s daughter passed away, leaving Eloise in their care. So long as Carol was standing in as a mother figure, this situation suited everyone fine, but Eloise’s other grandmother (Octavia Spencer) begins to question the arrangement when it is only Elliott caring for the young child.
Though it should be mostly a case about Elliott’s excessive drinking in response to his grief, when Eloise’s grandmother Rowena takes the custody dispute to court, issues of race take a majority of the focus instead. While there are moments within the screenplay that take an honest look at racial relations, there seem to be as many stereotypes within the characterization as there are layered personalities. In the end, it is strength in the two leads that makes this film more compelling than contrived.
Not without humor to prevent weighing the heavy topic even further, Costner gives one of the more nuanced performances of his career. Even without unnecessary sequences of Costner crying, we feel the pain in his grief and the difficulty in his struggle to step into the shoes of the woman he has lost. Spencer does her best to make Rowena as sympathetic, though the role begs for more depth than the screenplay allows. Though she is a successful self-made woman surrounded by loving family, the film is consistently tripped up by the blind motherly love she has for her son and Eloise’s drug-addicted father, Reggie (André Holland). It is also tiresome to be forcibly reminded that Elliott is not a racist within the narrative, whether in his treatment of a black co-worker or the hiring of a black tutor for Eloise. These moments are made slightly less worse due to the committed performance from most of the actors, though newcomer Estell is far more convincing as a cheerful Eloise than any of the scenes where she must act angry or sad. In the end, this somewhat mistaken preference for cuteness over talent results in the film’s most uneven character at the center of the narrative.
The Blu-ray release for Black or White is sadly sparse in terms of special features, mostly padded with promotional featurettes meant to get people interested in seeing the film but offering very little depth to those who have already experienced it. The one new addition is a making-of featurette, with the atrociously timely title of “Shades of Gray.” Bad puns are unfitting a film like this, and being reminded of the unfortunately successful contributions to literature and film is cheap and unnecessary.
Entertainment Value: 7.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10
Historical Significance: 6/10
Special Features: 5/10