AFF 2014: Black and White: Movie Review

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(NOTE: THE AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL CONCLUDED NEARLY TWO WEEKS AGO. I’VE BEEN VERY BEHIND ON THE REVIEWS. I APOLOGIZE FOR THE INCONVIENCE)

The centerpiece at this years Austin Film Festival was a film entitled Black and White. I heard about the film back in September when it was received warmly by audiences at Toronto. Many were saying that the films leads, Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer, should be in the conversation for Academy consideration. That made me curious about the film, and also because Bill Burr, one of the country’s strongest and best comedians, has a supporting role in the film. I saw the film two weeks ago, and I’m now just having time to write this review (it will all make sense in a few months when I explain it to you). Black and White has some big shoes to fill, as last year’s centerpiece was the Coen BrothersInside Llewyn Davis, one of my favorite films of last year, and one of my favorite films in general. I haven’t seen the film since that screening, and I still have certain scenes that I can’t seem to get out of my mind. I can’t say that Black and White is as memorable. Here’s the review.

Kevin Costner plays a man whose just lost his wife to a car crash. It hits come because his daughter died in a similar way, and since his daughter’s death, Costner and his wife had been raising their granddaughter, Eloise, played by newcomer Jillian Estell. Costner must try to raise the kid now on his own, with a little help from friends and relatives. The latter being the family of the father of the child, a large black family with Octavia Spencer as the matriarch. They want custody of the kid, and Costner won’t allow such a thing, due to being rubbed the wrong way by the father, played by Andre Holland.

The film was written and directed by Mike Binder, who directed Costner in 2005’s The Upside of Anger. I never saw the film, and I haven’t seen any of Binder’s previous work. And I was having a hard time recounting the story of the story because Black and White is so damn forgettable. The film is dull, and uninteresting throughout its entire runtime, and the movie felt was almost unfathomable with the schmaltz that Binder forces down your throat in the film. I don’t mind schmaltz when the film is done so well that you get caught up in the schmaltz and are enchanted by it due to how well done the film (a good example of this would be last years Saving Mr. Banks, a film that I loved). Going into this film, I was hoping that the film would be a bit of a departure for Costner, and that it would be a dark commentary on race relations which would be a backdrop for what is a courtroom drama. The film that I was thinking up in my head would’ve made for a better film, because the movie tries very hard to be funny, and I’d lie to you if I didn’t chuckle or smirk a bit during a few of the jokes in the film, but everything else falls flat. There’s a dumb storyline with a math tutor where they kept using a joke over and over again, and I wanted to beat myself silly every time they kept bringing up the dumb joke (I’ll play nice and won’t spoiler the joke that killed with everybody in the audience except me).

Costner is fine as always, and Octavia Spencer is good as well. The problem that I think makes the film as dull and boring as it is, is Costner. As I mentioned, his performance is good, and the man never gives a bad performance (no matter how bad some of his films can be), but Costner was a producer on the film, which means that Costner probably had some passion toward this project. And I’m wondering, since Costner was so devoted to the film, was why it was so schmaltzy and nice. I say this because I had the same problem with Costner’s last film, Draft Day, which I complained about being too nice and schmaltzy, where it should have been a darker, more raunchy and racy film that could have been a hit if that were the case. I feel that if this film followed a similar format, where the film was darker and edgier, and asked and presented the audiences with some very interesting questions about race and race relations, then we would have a very fascinating film on our hands. We get a small hint of that toward the end of the film, when Costner takes the stand in court, and gives his account. That’s when the film becomes a very smart and edgy courtroom drama. I also mention this because in my review of Draft Day, I couldn’t stress enough how the best scene of the film was when they were doing the draft, and it all took place inside a boardroom. That scene was brilliant and exciting. I’m still not sure why that couldn’t have been the whole film, and that same argument stands with Black and White! Kevin Costner is trying to mount a bit of a comeback into leading man status, but boy, he’s getting his ass kicked with doing these crappy movies.

Even Bill Burr, a man as funny and talented as he is, is a bland and uninteresting side character. Although, I did like the fact that he was a dramatic character more than what would have been comedic relief with this uninteresting material. Black and White is like a film that was made for the Hallmark Channel or the Lifetime Channel that was a little bit better than the typical programming on those respected networks, and they decided to release it theatrically. I’m surprised that the Film Festival would choose such a dull and boring film as the centerpiece of the festival, with last years being such a masterful piece of film by the Coen Brothers. I didn’t see anything else after Black and White because I got sick, so it was a pretty crummy way to end the film festival. But, a few days before, I saw a film that none of you have heard of before, and it was not only the best film of the festival, it’s also one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in years and one of the best films of the year. Find out what it is in a few days.

Final Rating:

D+

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