Getting Some Air
Elliott Anderson (Kevin Costner) finds his life turned upside down when his wife suddenly dies as she was the one who had looked after Eloise (Jillian Estell) their bi-racial grand daughter since her mother, their daughter, died in child birth and whose father, Reggie (André Holland) is a drug addict. Taking time out from work as attorney to try and be there for the only person who matters to him Elliott finds himself turning to drink and he becomes so reliant on it he decides to hire someone to help with not just Eloise but also his own troubles. But trouble now comes in the form of Rowena (Octavia Spencer), Eloise's paternal grandmother who pushes for full custody of her with her brother Jeremiah (Anthony Mackie), a corporate lawyer, leading a bitter court case.
On first glance, when I read that "Black or White" featured a battle between grandparents over the custody of their bi-racial granddaughter I immediately thought of the TV movie "The Color of Love" which had already covered the same theme. But "Black or White" is a different beast, a movie which is beautifully layered to make it not just another movie which deals with issues of race but looks at hurt and buried feelings. And it is beautifully acted with Kevin Costner turning in a performance so beautifully weathered that Elliott Anderson doesn't feel like a movie character but a bloke you might work with.
Now I said that "Black or White" is a layered movie and there is a lot going on. You may think at the heart of this movie is this custody case when in truth it is Elliott Anderson and his drinking, his need to deal with the pain he has pent up including his feelings towards Reggie. But we also see how desperate Rowena is to do right by her grand daughter and is blinkered to her son's short comings. And on top of that we do have the racism angle as Jeremiah pushes that side in the case where he draws a powerful response from Elliott which mixes pent up frustration, years of hurt and some buried racism which comes out in the heat of the moment. The beautiful thing is "Black or White" is not a complex movie but it is one which nicely digs beneath the layers you usually get in these types of movies and brings the deeper issues to the surface on a more personal level.
Now I have already mentioned Kevin Costner and it has to be said that his performance in this is one of the best he has delivered in many a years and makes Elliott a hugely textured and real character. But at the same time Octavia Spencer is first rate as Rowena bringing a mix of maternal instinct to the role but with that typical slice of Spencer sass which gives her an almost comical element once in a while especially in some of the courtroom scenes which gives this movie the levity it needs.
What this all boils down to is that I could go on about "Black or White" because there is a lot which could be said about this movie but the best thing I can say that it is such a beautifully rich movie it is one of those movies which needs to be watched to appreciate.