#REVIEW: “BLACK OR WHITE”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
After the sudden death of his Wife, alcoholic Elliot (Kevin Costner) is left to care for his Grandchild Eloise (Jillian Estell) on his own, her Mother having died in childbirth. Eloise‘s Father Reggie (Andre Holland) is a drug addict and mostly absent Parent, while his Mother Rowena (Octavia Spencer) is very much a part Eloise’s life. So much so that she initially argues for dual custody of Eloise, and when Elliot refuses, she takes him to court.
With a title like Black or White (which had its Gala Premiere as Black and White at this past TIFF), it is plainly obvious to see the main idea that propels Writer/Director Mike Binder‘s Film Forward. Black or White sizzles with racial tension and prejudice, but tries ever so hard to make it as subtle as possible. It just seems to be an idea that populates the subtext of some of the Character’s actions, manifesting in two supremely racist moments. But instead of their being shocking or truly meaning something, they just come off as bizarre and all but wasted.
Worse, the Film has a very odd tonal structure, leaping from heavy Drama to light Comedy — often in the same sequence. True, Black or White does not need to be deadly serious at all times. This is a Movie about a Grandfather learning how to properly care and raise his adorable young Granddaughter on his own after all. But it never seems to have a handle on the appropriate moments for laughter, often cutting into dramatic moments with offbeat hilarity. The Audience I saw the Film with found the Movie hilarious, but it just seemed strange to me to be laughing at how silly or deeply disturbed some of the Characters are.
Costner, who came back with a vengeance in 2014, is excellent as Elliot. His grieving and sorrow is genuine, as is his love for Eloise. The Character is not well-rounded, but Costner barely affords you the time to realize it. He brings a deliberate sense of intensity to the Role, and never lets up. The usually-reliable Spencer is terrific in small doses here, but seems to be channeling her inner-Tyler Perry in most, if not all the courtroom scenes. Holland, Bill Burr, Mpho Koaho and Anthony Mackie do great work all around, but the Film is stolen entirely by Estell as Eloise. She is absolutely perfect as Eloise, mixing the right amount of innocence and naivety to really sell the Character.
Black or White has an odd tone, and some truly strange Plot movements. It wants to start a bigger conversation about race, but its story seems illequipped for the job. Thankfully the Cast, especially Costner, give wonderful performances to make up for just that.
D Films release BLACK OR WHITE Friday, January 31, 2015.