By Mark Saldana

Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

I’m sure this film really does have an inspirational story behind it; however, the contrived and corny writing, along with some odd and awkward directing/editing choices keep it from inspiring me to write a favorable review. I will give the performances by Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal high praise, but otherwise, this movie feels like the work of an inexperienced filmmaker trying way too hard to tug at audiences’ heartstrings.

Based on actual events, Won’t Back Down tells the story of how a teacher and mother take action when their public school fails them. Single mother Jamie Fitzpatrick (Gyllenhaal), not only works two jobs to make ends meet, she also struggles to raise her dyslexic daughter Malia (Emily Alyn Lind).  Malia never gets the help she truly needs and has also become a victim of bullying by both her classmates and teacher.  Nona Alberts (Davis), one of the few dedicated teachers at the school, has a child of her own who suffers from a learning disability.  Jamie encourages Nona, other parents and teachers to take over the school so that it can become the institution of learning it should be. However, they face some serious obstacles within the bureaucracy of the school district and the teachers’ union which opposes their movement.

Written and directed by Daniel Barnz, who co-wrote the script with Brin Hill, Won’t Back Down is a movie that ambitiously attempts to tell a truly heartfelt, important and, what should have been an inspiring story, but because of its sloppy directing and editing and its sappy writing, it fails in its execution. For one example, the so-called villains of the story are portrayed as two dimensional caricatures and not as true to life people.  As I watched the film, I did feel for the protagonists, and this is mainly due to the stellar performances by Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal; however, I found the weaknesses of the script rather frustrating.

Davis and Gyllenhaal, whom I always admired for their acting talents, keep me from giving this film a lesser rating. They are the only factors of this movie which feel genuine and real.  I feel that better writers and a better director could have taken what is the typical “triumph over adversity” story and excelled with it. Unfortunately, the filmmakers of Won’t Back Down do not successfully recreate these “actual events” The result feels like a television movie of the week, and thus a waste of Davis and Gyllenhaal.  I do not recommend viewing this film in the cinema at all.

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