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Won't Back Down


Stars: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Oscar Isaac, Rosie Perez, Ving Rhames, Lance Reddick, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Bill Nunn, Holly Hunter

Director: Daniel Barnz

Its heart seems to be in the right place. Unfortunately, its melodramatic treatment of its “Inspired by true events” (which all too often translates as “Only the facts have been changed to make a more box-office appealing movie”) story comes over more as didactic than significant or, for that matter, particularly entertaining. In the final analysis, co-writer (with Brin Hill) and director Daniel Barnz’s drama’s natural element would be as a routine TV movie, preferably screened in the afternoon rather than in prime time.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, who struggles to keep afloat by working two jobs and former teacher Viola Davis are mothers who finally take action to improve things in the inner-city school in Pittsburgh attended by their young children. Which, of course, encouraged by Principal Ving Rhames, they succeed in doing although more didactically than enjoyably as they persuade other parents and teachers to take over management of the school.

This is a course of action that can be achieved in the United States but, sadly, Barnz’s co-screenplay is simplistic and exposition is similarly condensed and not made particularly interesting, despite the sincere dramatic efforts of those in front of the cameras. Here the essential plot point – that a parent-controlled school can be the solution to the problem of less-than-excellent education – never really comes to dramatic life but simply comes across as less-than-well-conceived preaching.

To their credit, Gyllenhaal and Davis do better than expected and Oscar Isaac is the regulation romantic interest as a music teacher who helps in the series of battles waged by the combatants.

At least when Won’t Back Down makes it to the small screen, channel switching will be a welcome option. Sadly, no such option was available at the press screening.

(Incidentally, although Disney is releasing the film in the UK, Don’t Back Down was produced by Walden Media).

Alan Frank

USA 2012. UK Distributor: Walt Disney. Colour.
120 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 23 Jan 2013