Lot of talking adds little substance to ‘Black or White’

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Wednesday, January 28, 2015 12:56pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Have you noticed that Kevin Costner gives good speeches? He deftly handled his classic “I believe in …” speech in “Bull Durham” and his courtroom summations in “JFK.”

He recently got a lifetime achievement award at the Critics Choice Awards, where he spoke pointedly about remembering to be grateful. His Oscar acceptance speeches for “Dances with Wolves” were pretty good, too.

Costner must like having writer-director Mike Binder create roles for him, because Binder likes to write speeches. Ten years ago in “The Upside of Anger,” Binder gave Costner a juicy part, and there’s more talk on tap in “Black or White,” their new collaboration.

This time out, the speeches just about wreck it. Or they would, if the movie weren’t already on a wobbly track.

Costner plays Elliot Anderson, a successful L.A. lawyer whose wife has just died. This leaves him with custody of their granddaughter Eloise (Jillian Estelle); his daughter died in childbirth seven years earlier.

The movie’s big conflict is how Elliot resists the attempts of Eloise’s other grandparent, Rowena (Octavia Spencer, Oscar winner for “The Help”), to share custody — and whether his antagonism has anything to do with the fact that Rowena and her family are black.

This supposedly hot-button issue feels painfully forced. Elliot is cool enough with Rowena’s family, he just doesn’t like her irresponsible son (a good turn by Andre Holland). And Rowena radiates big-hearted goodness, as well as being a successful small-business owner.

Thus it’s hard to believe a legal case will be pressed out of this, no matter how hard Costner and Binder try to paint Elliot as a hard-drinking egotist. We suspect he’ll come through in the end.

It builds to a trial, or a hearing, where lawyers and witnesses alike behave in ways that seem very loose and theatrical. And then Elliot gets his big speech, an attempt to keep it real about white people and race and how maybe everything exists in a gray area instead of being just … well, you know.

You’re free to like this speech or not like it, but that’s the moment “Black or White” slips definitively from character study to lecture. In retrospect, the whole movie feels rigged to make points about its subject, rather than illuminate the complexities of its people.

“Black or White” 2 stars

Kevin Costner fights for custody of his granddaughter, opposed by the girl’s other surviving grandparent (Octavia Spencer); he is white, she is black, and the movie tries to push a hot-button issue about race. It’s hard to believe these generally nice people would press a legal case, so the movie feels rigged to make points about its subject, rather than explore its people.

Rating: PG-13, for language, subject matter

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Edmonds Theater, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Meridian, Sundance Cinemas Seattle, Thornton Place Stadium 14, Woodinville, Cascade Mall

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Life

Matt Stewart, left, and Janice Ayala, right, spin during country dance lessons at Normanna Lodge on Tuesday, April 9, 2024 in Everett, Washington. Normanna Lodge will be hosting country dance next Tuesday during PBR Stampede. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett Stampede aims to become a Western-themed tradition

The new weeklong event combines a popular Professional Bull Riders event with live music, two-step dancing and more.

Graham Kerr, 90, leans down and kisses his new wife, Nancy, during Senior Expo on Tuesday, March 26, 2024, at Hotel Indigo in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
‘Galloping Gourmet’ celebrity chef Graham Kerr is a Stanwood newlywed

The 90-year-old shared his love of Nancy, God and Costco at the Everett senior expo last month.

Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Edmonds Center for the Arts plays host to comedian Don Friesen on Friday and Grammy-nominated vocal group säje on Sunday.

Jon Kim freestyles during a RTHMZ rehearsal Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Moving with love: Lynnwood’s RTHMZ dances to their own beat

The team brings together dancers from across styles to raise the bar of what’s possible in the local scene.

Stress management, meditation or relaxation to reduce anxiety, control emotion during problem solving or frustration work concept, woman in lotus meditation on chaos mess line with positive energy.
Sharing reflections on 50 years of meditation

Meditation is no quick fix, but if you establish a consistent practice, over time, you’ll appreciate the results.

In the “rickety-chic” Psyrri neighborhood of Athens, you’ll find slick outdoor restaurants next to vibrant street art. (Cameron Hewitt)
No need to scram from an Athens on the rise

Rick Steves used to think of Athens as a big ugly city. But while updating his guidebook one summer, he discovered a many-faceted city that’s getting its act together.

chris elliott.
Why won’t Airbnb cover my hotel expenses? They promised!

When David Tuttle’s Airbnb host moves him to a different rental, Airbnb offers to cover his hotel expenses, but a month has passed since. Where’s the money?

Oumou Sangare, from Senegal, performs at the "Africa Standing Tall Against Poverty" in concert with Live8 in Johannesburg Saturday July 2, 2005. (AP Photo)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Hear Grammy winner Oumou Sangare on Saturday in Edmonds. Also on Saturday: The Everett Film Festival.

Jimmer DeGroot stands along the line of weber grills in his front yard on Sunday, March 31, 2024, in Grotto, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Why are there 24 Weber grills lined up on the highway to Stevens Pass?

Just ask Jimmer De Groot. He expresses his love of grills through his art. And it’s now a bit of an obsession.

2024 Honda Civic Type R (Photo provided by Honda)
2024 Honda Civic Type R

Developed in Japan, and track-tested around the world, the Civic R Type delivers 315 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, making it Honda’s most powerful production vehicle in the U.S.

Soul sisters Helsinki and Tallinn are pearls of the Baltic

While they have their own stories to tell, these cities share a common heritage of Swedish and Russian influences.

My trip to Iraq was canceled, so why can’t I get my $7,590 back?

When Diane Gottlieb’s tour of Iraq is canceled, the tour operator offers her a voucher for a future trip. But she wants a refund.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.