Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, André Holland, Anthony Mackie, Jennifer Ehle, Bill Burr, Gillian Jacobs
Written by: Mike Binder
Directed by: Mike Binder
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language, thematic material involving drug use and drinking, and for a fight
Running Time: 121
Date: 01/30/2015

Black or White (2015)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Gray Matters

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Actor-turned-writer/director Mike Binder (The Upside of Anger, Reign Over Me) tackles some very tough material here in a very thoughtful way, even if it falls a little off-balance.

After the death of his beloved wife, Elliot (Kevin Costner), finds himself raising his mixed-race granddaughter Eloise (Jillian Estell) by himself. Eloise's mother died in childbirth and her father, a drug addict, is out of the picture, so Elliot has been there for her since day one. Eloise's paternal grandmother, Rowena (Octavia Spencer), lives in South Central L.A. and would like to help raise Eloise in her full, busy house.

When Elliot begins drinking heavily, Rowena sees her chance and sues for full custody of the child. Elliot finds himself walking a complex path, navigating a gray area between race and prejudice, drugs and alcohol, and his love for that little girl.

None of these characters is perfect. Kevin Costner's character gives a courtroom speech about how he does notice the skin color of a person, but only as his first thought. If his second thought is about the person under the skin, then that's the thought that counts.

The South Central house is warm, and filled with music, and Elliot walks through it comfortably, and with no racial bias. Octavia Spencer's character is shown to be smart and caring, but her all-or-nothing approach with regard to Eloise seems illogical (why not try for joint custody?). The character of Eloise's drug-addicted father (Andre Holland) is thin, and the double-standard between alcohol and drugs is barely acknowledged.

But the movie gets big points for trying and for adding to the discussion, and the performances are excellent.

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