Film Review – Black or White (2014)

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Title – Black or White (2014)

Director – Mike Binder (Reign Over Me)

Cast – Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Jillian Estell, Anthony Mackie, Gillian Jacobs

Plot – Recently widowed and well-off lawyer Elliot Anderson (Costner) finds himself in a custody battle over his granddaughter Eloise (Estell) with Eloise’s biological grandmother Rowena Jeffers (Spencer) who feels that Eloise needs to grow up in a more loving environment than what can be provided by Elliot.

“This isn’t about black and white. This is about Eloise”

Review by Eddie on 8/12/2015

A curious mix of comedy and drama that’s surrounded by a quite loaded scenario, Black or White marks the return of writer/director Mike Binder after 7 years in the wilderness between this film and his previous underrated drama Reign Over Me from 2007 and while Black or White succeeds in ways, it fails in an equal share also.

Getting to the crux of Black or White’s inability to stick it out as a fully formed winner isn’t too hard of task as what brings the film down is an uneasy tone. Flirting throughout its runtime between a strange hybrid of comedy and straight up intense family/racial drama, Black or White finds itself in that unwanted middle ground of a film that feels less the sum of its parts either way you look.

Binder has found success with darkly comedic films before, Reign Over Me did it well and his breakout The Upside of Anger was a great example of the mixing of genres but Black or White can’t seem to shake the narrative shackles holding it back despite the best efforts of its cast.

Continuing on his fine comeback form, Kevin Costner is the true winner of Black or White, enhancing the film with his on point acting turn as Elliot Anderson the recently widowed and grieving grandfather of young Eloise. While Elliot isn’t an overly affable person (never far from having a drink in his hand) Costner makes the character work and holds the film above water when Octavia Spencer’s over the top and caricature like Rowena “Wee-Wee” Jeffers finds herself with some screen time.

The character of Wee Wee is a fine showcase also for why Binder’s film fails to fire on all cylinders with commentary about dissociation between white and black prevalent throughout, such playing to genre staples like the kindly hearted/loud mouth talking Wee Wee belong to another film, perhaps a Wayan’s Brother comedy or another Big Momma’s House, not a courtroom focused drama.

At one time spoken about regularly as an Oscar contender, Black or White failed to make much of mark in a commercial or critical manner and upon home video inspection it’s quite clear as to why that is the case. With a fine Kevin Costner lead performance at front and centre and a nice debut turn from young actress Jillian Estell, Black or White has its moments but in the end there is no illusion to the fact the final result here is a highly forgettable one.

2 ½ unwanted pool parties out of 5

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