- Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080p/24 (23.976Hz)
- Audio Codec: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit), English Descriptive Audio Service 5.1, French & Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
- Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
- Subtitles Color: White
- Region: A (Region-Locked)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
- Digital Copies: UltraViolet
- Run Time: 121 Mins.
- Studio: 20th Century Fox
- Blu-ray Release Date: January 15, 2013
- List Price: $29.99
Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures
(All TheaterByte screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG at 100% quality setting and are meant as a general representation of the content. They do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)
Every year or so, Hollywood (and otherwise) decides to produce a film or two about the state of the public education system in America. No one can argue that there are serious issues that desperately need to be addressed with the school system in this country, but there is no film, no fictional film anyway, that seems to be able to address all of these problems with any amount of depth worthy of the topic. Invariably, the films’ themes break down into the most patronizing, simplistic terms in an effort to tug at our heartstrings while presenting the most one-dimensional solutions to complex issues. Won’t Back Down from director and co-writer Daniel Barnz is no exception to this rule, easily sliding into the very basic feel-good category of school films.
In Won’t Back Down, Maggie Gyllenhaal plays working class single mom Jamie who’s struggling to get by with her seven-year-old daughter Malia. Malia, a sever dyslexic, has just lost her spot in a highly coveted private school since Jamie can no longer afford to keep up the tuition payments. It is then when she is placed in the local Public School, Adams Elementary the worst school in the area, and Malia is met with an incompetent teacher, bullying school kids, and no one to help her with her special needs. Rather than accept the fate that her child will be stuck with a sub par education, Jamie begins to fight. First, she tries to get her into another teacher’s class – Nona Alberts (Viola Davis), whose husband has just left her and whose son has special education needs of his own. Together, these two parents from opposite ends of the social spectrum – Nona is black, well educated, and upper middle class, Jamie is white, working class, and, more street smart than anything else – begin to concoct a scheme to take over their school and turn it into a charter. Mainly this is at the constant pestering of Jamie. Rumblings of the parent/teacher takeover raise the ire of the teachers union, which the film pretty much vilifies right from get go. A dirty campaign of smears is launched by union leader Arthur Gould (Ned Eisenberg), even as his colleague Evelyn Riske (Holly Hunter) takes a different track.
Won’t Back Down is painted in the broadest of strokes, its characters neatly fitting into predetermined stereotypes all with the intention of drumming up our sympathies for the children. But the filmmakers intentions are telegraphed pretty early on as to who and what they are going to blame for the complex problems with the school system in America. In the end, Won’t Back Down boils it all down to bureaucracy and teachers unions, offering up charter schools and parent takeovers as the only solution to this impossible mess. I guess no one ever told them that none of the studies show charter schools, on average, performing any better than their non-charter counterpoints; they also in fact do worse in reading scores. But, hey, what do any of these things matter in a world where people are accustomed to making up their own facts?
Apart from the obvious agenda set forth in this lackluster film, the leads, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, do what they can with the material they have at hand. That isn’t saying much at all, however. Viola Davis seems perpetually grumpy while Maggie Gyllenhaal comes across as simply too stupid and absent minded to ever negotiate the web of red tape this film lays out for her character.
Won’t Back Down was shot with the Arricam LT using the Super 35 format. The muted color palette and heightened grit and grain of the original source doesn’t often make for the best reference HD material. With that said, this AVC/MPEG-4 1080p encodement does look film-like and doesn’t show any issues with post-processing or electronic noise, but it won’t be moving to the top of the pile anytime soon to show off your display.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) soundtrack is subtle and front-heavy, as one would expect from such a dialogue-driven film. This does work for the material at hand, offering clear and natural dialogue with subtle atmospherics in the surround and a balanced approach to panning across the front. One does wish that a little boost to the surrounds would have been applied.
There’s nothing much here beyond deleted scenes and a few more featurettes very briefly “exploring” the topic of public education and teachers in our country. Additionally, the obligatory director commentary is provided.
- Deleted Scenes w/ optional commentary by director Daniel Barnz (2.35:1; 1080p/24; 00:08:42):
- Jamie Begs for a Promotion
- Coming Alive in the Classroom
- Rallying Parents
- On the News
- After the Line Dance
- Water Fight
- A Tribute to Teachers (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:03:47)
- The Importance of Education (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:05:14)
- Audio Commentary with director Daniel Barnz
- Theatrical Trailer (2.35:1; 1080p/24)
The Definitive Word
In the end, Won’t Back Down is meant to get you feeling really good about yourself and really bad about teacher’s unions. Personally, I’m not buying what they’re dishing out and perhaps you should be suspect about it as well.
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