Based on real events, this dramedy from writer/director Mike Binder (Reign Over Me; The Upside of Anger) Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer as two grandparents — one white, one black — fighting over custody of their biracial granddaughter (Jillian Estell).
When Elliot’s (Costner) wife dies in a tragic car accident, he is left to care for his young biracial granddaughter Eloise (Estell) alone. Eloise’s mother died during childbirth due to complications from a heart defect and her father Reggie (André Holland) has been out of the picture due to his drug abuse problems. The only other family Eloise has that wants to be in her life is her paternal grandmother Rowena “weenie” Jeffers (Spencer), a self-confident, strong-willed businesswoman from East LA who is convinced that Elliot doesn’t want Eloise going around her and her family because they are black. A long and complicated custody battle ensues that brings up many of the complex issues bubbling under the surface of this unconventional family.
What could have been a very poignant film about race relations in America and the shifting demographics and family structures in today’s society instead, in Black or White, turns into a film with lots of platitudes and cliches. The only truly touching moment to come out of the film is when a still heartbroken Elliot tries to comb his granddaughter’s hair for the first time, unaccustomed to the texture and technique of combing a young black girl’s hair. Otherwise, Binder’s screenplay is your run of the mill black versus white storyline that wraps up with everybody airing their grievances and finally reaching a happy conclusion; it’s all good, nothing here to see.
Nevertheless, Costner is used to good effect as the rich white lawyer trying to do right by his biracial granddaughter despite the ill will he feels toward her deadbeat dad. In fact, Elliot’s downward spiral into drink and even the brink of hatred (he hurls a vile racial epithet at Reggie that is shocking coming out of the mouth of Kevin Costner, the perennial American “everyman” ) is the most interesting thing about Black or White. Octavia Spencer is good in her role as Eloise’s caring grandmother and even the ever hopeful but always letdown mother of ne’r-do-well Reggie, but this overriding sense of well meaning and love, especially in Eloise who has lost her mother, one of her grandmothers, and has never had a proper father, leaves Black or White feeling wholly grey, unable to take a proper stance one way or the other on the really difficult issues.
The gorgeous AVC 1080p encodement for Black or White is indicative of its contemporary vintage and sunny locale. The film is set in Southern California, but actually filmed on location in New Orleans. The vibrant color palette and crisp textures come through wonderfully and clean with no video noise, the shadows are nuanced, and post-processing such as edge enhancement is not an issue.
Black or White comes with a straightforward English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) soundtrack as its sole audio option. The dialogue is clear and full with no audible clipping or crackle and the surrounds carry only some mild, low level atmospheric effects.
- Digital HD UltraViolet
- Shades of Gray: The Making of Black or White (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:23:54)
- Promotional Featurettes:
- Kevin Costner Featurette (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:02:02)
- Family First Featurette (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:02:12)
- Theatrical Trailer (2.35:1; 1080p/24; Dolby Digital 5.1; 00:02:17)
The Definitive Word
A well acted but ultimately forgettable film that misses a great opportunity to address some really important issues in a meaningful way, Black or White is about as purposeful as its indecisive title.
Additional Screen Captures