What society sees as “black” has long been debated and now director/screenwriter Mike Binder (The Upside of Anger, Reign Over Me) brings his contribution to the discussion to the big screen. Teaming up once again with Kevin Costner, Binder presents us with the stereotypes and then changes them up. We expect the white, rich man who lives in the suburbs to be an outright racist, but he turns out just to be bitter and damaged while occasionally lashing out at his bi-racial granddaughter’s estranged, crack smoking father. The message of the film is that most things are not black or white rather they are grey.
Returning from the hospital after living through the worst night of his life, Elliot Anderson (Kevin Costner – Man of Steel, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) has to go home and tell his granddaughter Eloise (Jillian Estell – So This is Christmas) that her grandmother is dead. Elliott’s wife Carol (Jennifer Ehle – Zero Dark Thirty, The King’s Speech) was killed in a car accident leaving her husband a widow and Eloise without the woman who has been raising her. Now it is up to Elliott to pick up the pieces and become her primary care giver.
This is made more difficult due to the fact that he drinks too much, is really reeling emotionally over the death of his daughter during childbirth years ago and his wife’s recent death and that Eloise’s paternal grandmother Rowena (Octavia Spencer – The Help, Fruitvale Station) wants custody of her in order to raise her in a black environment. Rowena has hired her hot shot lawyer brother Jeremiah (Anthony Mackie – The Hurt Locker, Million Dollar Baby) and attempted to clean up her son and Eloise’s father, Reggie (André Holland – 42, Selma) so that his petition for full custody of his daughter is more legit.
Binder has attempted to make a film that tells the truth (whatever that is) about race relations, but ends up spending more time avoiding it than he does delving into it. It is almost like Binder is trying to forward the idea that it is not worth discussing. He even has Kevin Costner’s character say so multiple time. Confusing – a race film that does not want to talk about race. When we try to dig deeper and look into what he is trying to say about race we unearth plenty of stereotypes. The sassy middle aged woman, the crack head father who abandons his kid, and a whole black family who seems to not have jobs and just hang around a house.
There are enough decent scenes, like the interaction between Costner and Estell and Costner’s character on the stand being asked the question if he is a racist, mostly due to the actors rather than the script that makes the film worth a watch, but Binder is guilty of dropping the ball as it could have been much more. With the race issue taken out this is nothing more than a movie of the week with the drinking, death, drugs, inner struggle, and cute kid.