Review: BLACK OR WHITE

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

For a film about some heavy topics as race relations, addiction, and child custody battles, I was rather perplexed that Mike Binder would choose a hackneyed climax that comes unexpectedly (not in a good way) and is so unnecessary and out of place.  As for the rest of his film, Binder does a heck of a job writing and developing a compelling story about a child custody battle between two loving, but flawed families. As it often happens with most custody the battles, the child herself gets overshadowed by the sins of her families’ past and all of everyone’s dirty laundry gets aired. With some stirring dramatic moments, a few corny melodramatic ones, and a silly climax, Black or White does have much love for its subject and characters. However, like the child character of the story, this movie needs more than good intentions.

Kevin Costner stars as Eliot Anderson, a recently widowed husband and grandfather left to care for his granddaughter Eloise (Jillian Estell). Eliot and his wife Carol (Jennifer Ehle) have raised Eloise since the death of their daughter. Even though Eloise’s African-American father Reggie (Andre Holland) has had more than his share of legal problems, he and his mother Rowena (Octavia Spencer) have decided to seek custody.  Things get rather ugly as the legal proceedings begin and the character flaws of everyone involved come to light.

Mike Binder may have made a few questionable choices regarding his story and plot, his film does have some exceptional moments of both the dramatic and comedic varieties.  His cast members deliver performances that range from solid to great. Both Costner and Spencer perform wonderfully as two grandparents who get so caught up in a heated competition for a child they love dearly, that they soon forget what is best for her happiness and well being. Reggie Davis also delivers a stunning turn as Reggie, Eloise’s father constantly battling the demon of drug addiction. The film also stars Anthony Mackie as Jeremiah, Rowena’s younger brother and attorney. He too offers an ardent performance here.  I was also quite impressed with the very young Jillian Estell who shows much promise as the highly lovable Eloise.

Binder too shows that he has it in him to write and direct compelling material.  I just think he gets a little carried away with creating drama and excitement in this movie. I watched this film at last year’s Austin Film Festival and would definitely watch it again. Though it’s not excellent, it does have enough going for it for me to give it a positive review. I would not recommend paying for a full priced ticket for Black or White, but a matinee or future video rental shouldn’t leave one feeling cheated.  In a day and age where racial tensions run high over the questionable activities of police and the alleged criminals in question, this movie does succeed in reminding people that we are all human and we are all flawed.

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