Viola Davis (left) and Maggie Gyllenhaal go campaigning for... Oscar?
WON'T BACK DOWN (Daniel Barnz). 121 minutes. Opens Friday (September 28). See listings. Rating: NNN
Won't Back Down is a barely veiled propaganda film that's saved from a failing grade by good performances.
Inspired by California's "parent trigger law," this fictional movie attacks teachers' unions that protect bad apples and school boards that are more invested in bureaucracy than education.
Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as an Erin Brockovich-like single mom who refuses to accept the rotten education her dyslexic daughter has been receiving. She enlists Viola Davis's idealistic teacher to take over their inner-city school, which oddly doesn't have that many black students, unless we're meant to assume they all dropped out.
The film itself feels like it was written by a unionized committee that sticks to the textbook on inspirational movie clichés. Every scene is calculated to activate tear ducts or fist-pumping.
The formula works, not because it offers any convincing lessons but because inspirational actors animate it. Gyllenhaal is typically endearing, inhabiting her role with ease. Davis delivers yet another acting master class, adding dimensions to her poorly written character with every facial twitch and agonized breakdown.
While the film is strictly about what's happening in the States, it will be interesting to see how this one-sided, unsound critique is debated in our own political environment, where Dalton McGuinty's government is forcing the hand of the teachers' unions.