The plot is just a clothesline on which to hang an unabashedly biased diatribe.
Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News
A film where typecasting and color-coding makes it easy to predict which characters are good or bad.
The movie, a production of Walden Media, which is owned by Philip Anschutz, a billionaire entrepreneur and Christian conservative whose foundation supports a number of right-wing causes, opened in theaters today.
Though the film’s pernicious propagandistic bias is irritating and misleading, it can’t be overemphasized that what is really wrong with this film is how feeble it is dramatically.
When Nora is trying to decide if she should work with Jamie, she remembers her mother’s question: “What are you going to do with your one and only life?”
Anyone who values their one and only life would be well-advised not to spend two hours of it here.
This poor film is so shamelessly manipulative and hopelessly bogus it will make you bite your tongue in regret and despair.
“A movie so stupid and unoriginal it had to steal its title from a Tom Petty song. Yes, scholars, welcome to “Won’t Back Down,” a union-bashing flick destined to become a favorite of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
…the rapid accumulation of clichés and rampant stupidity made me so weary, I could hardly wait for the dismissal bell to ring.
Theaters should install glow-in-the-dark versions of those old clunking classroom clocks so viewers can count the agonizing minutes ticking by as they watch the movie.
I’ve vocalized on here the problems that I’ve had with the upcoming drama Won’t Back Down since I first saw the trailer a few months back. In my view, the trailer oozed with the misguided (or hell, flat out wrong) “blame the teachers” ideology behind many theories of how to reform public education in America.
Obviously, there are major problems with public education. There are significant problems with our unions. Teachers, above all, know about this firsthand. Many of us are fighting diligently for the needed changes, while fighting against a political system which serves only to put up walls which serve stifle any progress we make. We also are well aware what the problems are not and what reforms will be detrimental to our students. Education is, after all, what we devote our lives to - and while there are the often portrayed images of teachers as quasi-professionals who only half-know what they are talking about, that image is complete crap. The majority of us are not just great, but spectacular at what we do and we know the ins-and-outs of the public education system. In fact, most of us are experts.
But I digress. The point being: from the moment that I first finished watching the cringe-worthy trailer for Won’t Back Down, I had a hunch that this movie goal was to encourage that inaccurate image of most American educators being buffoons hellbent on figuring out the easiest way to slide through their days while bleeding the system for as high of salaries as possible. Of course, there’d be that small handful of teachers with truly altruistic intentions, but no… not the majority.
I also felt that the movie was about to portray the complex problems with public education in a much too simplistic light, as if the solution to the problems were right at our fingertips, that the answer was easy, if only someone took action.
That’s obviously not the reality.
I haven’t seen the movie though, so I can’t criticize the film firsthand. I’ve only seen the trailer. Yet, it sounds like my preconceptions may have been right on. If you’d like the opinions of people who have seen the film, well… here you go.
From Andrew O’Hehir at Salon:
So teachers’ unions don’t care about kids. Oh, and luck is a foxy lady. This is what I took away from the inept and bizarre “Won’t Back Down,” a set of right-wing anti-union talking points disguised (with very limited success) as a mainstream motion-picture-type product. …
[T]he big picture is that the movie is unbelievable crap and the whole project was financed by conservative Christian billionaire Phil Anschutz, also the moneybags behind the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” which handled a similar agenda in subtler fashion. Even though I personally find the politics of “Won’t Back Down” noxious - and the film seems half-seriously meant to launch some sort of activism, on behalf of whom or what I don’t know - that’s only a small part of the problem. …
There’s so much human drama in and around the charter-school movement that it should be easy to tell a powerful story, from almost any perspective you like. Nothing’s off limits in a dramatic context, of course, and given the enormous crap-storm that is American public education, there’s more than enough blame to go around. …
[A]ll we get here is the most blithe and moronic kind of “let’s put on a show” magical thinking, in which ripping up the union contract and wresting control of the school from the bureaucrats becomes an end in itself, and what happens later is shrouded in the mists of an imaginary libertarian paradise. There are attempts at Fox News-style balance here and there, as when someone observes that most charter schools fail to improve outcomes and when a bombastic union exec played by Ned Eisenberg delivers a monologue about the current assault on labor (right before announcing that he couldn’t care less about children). …
As presented in this script (written by Barnz and Brin Hill), the Pittsburgh teachers’ union has no goal beyond protecting the status quo at all costs, and no interest whatever – no altruistic interest, no self-interest and no public-relations interest — in improving the quality of public education. Most people still understand, I believe, that teachers work extremely hard for little pay and low social status in a thankless, no-win situation. But this is one of those areas where conservatives have been extremely successful in dividing the working class, which is precisely the agenda in “Won’t Back Down.” Breeding hostility to unions in themselves, and occasionally insinuating that unionized teachers are a protected caste of incompetents who get three damn months off every single year, has been an effective tactic in what we might call postmodern Republican populism, especially in recent battles over public employee contracts in Wisconsin and elsewhere. It works something like this: 1) Turn the resentment and frustration of people like Jamie – people with crappy service-sector jobs and few benefits, whose kids are stuck in failing schools – against the declining group of public employees who still have a decent deal. 2) Strip away job security and collective bargaining; hand out beer and ukuleles instead. 3) La la la la, tax cuts, tax cuts, I can’t hear you!
Here’s another review from Ella Taylor at NPR:
Joining forces with Nona (the great Viola Davis), a disheartened educator at Malia’s failing public school who also has a learning-disabled son (Dante Brown), Jamie handpicks a few burned-out but salvageable teachers. Going door to door, Jamie and Nona recruit an army of madder-than-hell parents to take on a bound-and-gagged principal, the board of education and the dreaded union, the better to take over the school and do things right.
All cynicism aside, the movie taps a rich vein of accumulated public frustration at the continued failure of government to provide decent access to public schools for all American children. Aside from religion itself, no subject lends itself more to arm-waving entrenched positions than education. And perhaps a movie aimed at a mainstream audience can’t help but distill the discussion into culture-war sound bites.
For all its strenuous feints at fair play, though, Won’t Back Down is something less honorable — a propaganda piece with blame on its mind. Directed with reasonable competence by Daniel Barnz from a speechifying screenplay he co-wrote with Brin Hill, the movie is funded by Walden Media, a company owned by conservative mogul Philip Anschutz, who advocates creationist curricula in schools. Walden also co-produced the controversial pro-charter school documentary Waiting for Superman, so the outfit is not without axes to grind.
That movie’s love affair with the charter movement seems to have cooled somewhat in Won’t Back Down, which features a lottery scene complete with nail-biting parents vying for a handful of vacancies at the excellent Rosa Parks Charter School. The fact that many charter schools have failed to produce better-educated kids, however, is not where this strenuously populist scenario is headed. Nor is the movie interested in the vexed question of what makes a good teacher …
In fact, it’s nuance and reason that fall by the wayside amid the sloganeering rhetoric of Won’t Back Down. Like most large institutions with interests to protect, the unions could use some reforms, especially when it comes to shielding bad teachers from scrutiny and discipline. But if you were to wave a magic wand that replaced unions and bureaucrats with a rainbow coalition of local parents and educators coming together to create the kind of school they want, the result would be chaos, not to mention an end to the tattered remains of our common culture.
I like the actresses involved. As for them, I can only believe that their intentions weren’t devious. But they’re not educators. And, if the reviews are accurate, this movie has it wrong. I won’t be seeing it when it comes out in theaters, because I don’t want to spend my money to support something with such a message.
I would eventually like to see it though and see for myself what we, as perpetually criticized educators, continue to be up against. Maybe with a free Redbox rental or when I can stream it on Netflix.
Won’t Back Down: Not even Hollywood believes this one…
The absurd idea that the parents of an entire student body are too apathetic to worry about their kids’ education until Jamie comes along like some rocker-chick Erin Brokovich is just one of the film’s condescendingly movie-ish conceits.
However, this is another one of those movies where a tenacious white person leads the charge to save inner-city kids, achieving a miracle transformation through sheer force of will.