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Title: Black or White

Movie: :3stars:
Video: :4.5stars:
Audio: :4.5stars:
Extras: :1.5stars:

HTS Overall Score:78

I find it amusing that films that take several years to produce, get off the ground and actually get FILMED are all released at an opportune time (so to speak). It’s no big news that the media has been putting racial issues on the forefront, especially racial issues dealing with Black and White folks. “Selma” was but a week ago, and this time we have a little courtroom melodrama with a bi racial custody battle over or a mixed race little girl. The title is “Black or White”, but the racial issues appear to be a bit shoe horned in, with the real tale being about a drug case custody battle. The film’s basic premise is pretty much that, but there are some obvious points that feel like director Mike Binder hedged his bets a little bit and pushed the race issue into the mix to make sure it hit all the demographics.

The film opens with Kevin Costner’s character, Elliot Anderson, dealing with the loss of his wife. A successful lawyer, he and his wife have been raising their dead daughter’s child in her absence. Crushed by the news, he has to break the sadness Eloise (Jillian Estell), the granddaughter, and tell her that the only mother she’s ever known won’t be coming home. In the days that follow the pair have to adapt at being on their own. Elliot has to learn how to be both a father AND a mother, and Eloise has to adapt to the eccentricities and hiccups that happen when a typical man has to take over both parenting jobs. All seems well and good until Eloise’s OTHER grandmother, Rowena (Octavia Spencer) wants Eloise to move in with her crowded family. She’s got the home, she’s got all the family the child could ever want for, but she has one small hiccup. It seems that her son Reggie (Andre Holland), wasn’t exactly the best of fathers. A drug taking thug on the streets, he got Elliot’s daughter pregnant and then abandoned them all right after birth. No matter how much of a home Rowena and crew have, Elliot bears them no trust and won’t see his granddaughter in that home.

With the pleasantries out of the way this goes into a full out custody battle. Rowena’s brother is a high priced and extremely well educated lawyer (played by Anthony Mackie) and they are going to do everything they can to prove that Elliot’s hostility towards them is because they’re black. Elliot has no qualms about fighting dirty either, and he pulls out all the stops to dig up dirt on the family, and things get especially interesting when Reggie comes back in town to mix things up. Both sides get ugly, and both side have some internal prejudices and dislikes about the other, but the film plays out to a predictable ending with a happy and clean wrap up.

I rather liked “Black or White” despite the several flaws it displays. The story is kind of clunky and the race relations sub plot is rather awkward and pandering at times. In all honesty the whole issue of race could have been left out and the movie been about the relationship between Elliot and Eloise struggling to stay together and you would not have known the difference. Anthony Mackie’s character is very adamant about the supposed prejudices that Elliot has towards the other side of Eloise’s parentage, and Elliot doesn’t exactly come off as wildly convincing a victim (although his courtroom testimony regarding race relations at the end was excellent), so I honestly wonder why it was made the title point of the movie.

The real story, and the majority of the movie, is spent analyzing both families involved in the feud. Elliot has a drinking problem that started with the death of his daughter some years ago, and it has intensified over the course of the grandmother’s death. It’s not always handled perfectly in the movie, but it IS rather realistic and even sympathetic considering the circumstances that exasperate it. Costner plays the role EXTREMELY well, as the disheveled and wandering grief victim who just wants life to get back to normal. The drinking aspect is played up to a fairly comical point at times, but it does play a point in the film. Reggie and Rowena’s side is a bit more complicated. Rowena is a truly kind and caring woman, and much like Elliot, honestly has Eloise’s best intentions at heart. The problem is that she has a blind sport for her son, Reggie. She only wants to see the good in him, and not the bad that he’s currently doing. Having him in the picture for the second half of the film complicates the trial quite a bit, but it acts as a caricature of the typical thug, making him easy to dislike, even through his slick talking. Jillian Estell does a decent job as an acting newcomer, but her range isn't exactly phenomenal. What really made her good was the natural charm and sweetness that she brings to the role. Sure she read a few lines in a bland manner, but her innocent nature and sweet disposition made her very relate able, especially when paired with Kevin Costner


Rated PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language, thematic material involving drug use and drinking, and for a fight

Video :4.5stars:
The scope 2.40:1 AVC encoded 1080p encode for “Black or White” is just a little shy of true 100% excellence. Shot digitally it has a very squeaky clean and crystal clear image with a very natural color timing. Skin tones are extremely accurate and realistic while the contrast level is perfectly balanced. There is a lot of fine detail present, especially in the facial close ups, but there was one minor bit of digital noise that shows itself in the movie’s opening scene. It was nothing wild, but it did stand out a little bit from the rest of the movie. While most of the film displays very neutral color grading, Elliot’s home shows an amber hue to it, while some of the lawyer’s office scenes have a hard and sharp blue tone to them. Black levels are deep and inky with plenty of shadow detail, and besides the above mentioned noise in the opening shot, I didn't notice any major or minor artifacting on the disc.

Audio :4.5stars:
There is a single 5.1 DTS-HD MA track on the disc, and that track is an example of how good a drama can really sound. Most of the time dramas are more than a bit front heavy, with little support in the rears and sides with little to no LFE. The movie IS a TAD front heavy at times, due to the copious amounts of dialog, but the surrounds and sub actually get some very good workouts in. Said vocals are clean and articulate, but the encompassing sound field is more than just some dialog. The score and the ambient noises flood the surrounds and give a very immersive feeling for a drama. LFE is soft, but accompanies the score well, never fading into the background, while never really letting loose with some heavy duty bass either. Just a great all around track with some really nice nuances to it.

Extras :1.5stars:

• Shades of Gray: The Making of "Black or White"
• Kevin Costner Featurette
• Family First Featurette
• Trailer

Overall: :4stars:

“Black or White” isn’t a fantastic film, but it was certainly entertaining enough thanks to the performances of Kevin Costner and Jillian Estell. Their chemistry was beautiful and it made the whole father/daughter type bonding (even though he’s the grandfather, I know) so poignant and touching. The video and audio are excellent considering the modern equipment at hand, and the film even has a couple of small extras. It’s not something I would go out and blind buy, but it was pleasing as a decent rental.

Additional Information:

Starring: Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Jillian Estell
Directed by: Mike Binder
Written by: Mike Binder
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 121 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: May 5th 2015

Buy Black or White On Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Rental

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