Black or White (Blu-ray Review)

Black or White Blu-ray ReviewBlack or White from writer/director Mike Binder (The Upside of Anger, Reign Over Me) concerns the custody of Eloise, who after her white mother died in childbirth, is raised by her white grandparents, Elliott (Kevin Costner) and Carol (Jennifer Ehle).  After Carol dies in an accident, a custody battle ensues between Elliott and Eloise’s black paternal grandmother Rowena (Octavia Spencer).  The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival before received a wide theatrical release on January 30th, 2015.

Black or White


Black or White certainly has its heart in the right place, but ultimately that’s part of its problem. An attempt at a modern day Kramer vs. Kramer custody drama, Black or White never achieves the emotional punch that Kramer provided, and its dealings with race relations never approaches the analytical nature that it could.

It’s more about the sentiment than the substance, as Elliott Anderson is forced to confront his granddaughter’s drug-addicted father Reggie (Andre Holland), who he holds responsible for the death of his daughter. Reggie’s mother Rowena places a tremendous amount of faith in Reggie to be a father to his daughter Eloise, and has a distanced relationship with Elliott.

The subject of race constantly floats around the movie, and is on occasion confronted, but doesn’t create the incendiary passion that could create conversation. The film deserves credit for using the subject matter, but writer/director Binder gets perhaps a little too politically incorrect when he could be astute. What are the differences that each side presents for Eloise? Is it all about family (Rowena) or economic security (Elliott) or are there more pros and cons that could be discussed, and how much of that really does have to do with race? In a perfect world, race would be irrelevant, but it never is, and it could be observed in a thought-provoking manner.

That’s not to say the film is a complete failure by any means. Its chalk full of good performances, especially from its two leads. This, along with Binder’s The Upside of Anger, provides Kevin Costner with one of his most complex performances since his string of critical successes in the late 80s and early 90s. Spencer, who’s starting to feel like she’s being pigeonholed into repeating her character from The Help, finds multiple layers to Rowena. The script never allows its characters to become one-note, presenting both sides as both good and flawed.

One subplot involves the head-to-head of substance abuse in the form of crack by Reggie and alcohol by Elliott, and the film avoids clichéd pratfalls that lead to heavy melodrama. That is until a climactic scene to reach an unbelievable courtroom resolution, but this isn’t the film where people get in car accidents or throw punches. These people are as functional as movie characters get who deal with these issues.

Ultimately, it’s a sweet film that will play adequately for those looking for good performances and interesting premise. The film never reaches the potential of that premise, and its good intentions can’t combat the fact that it’s just a tad disposable.

Black or White


Not the type of film that’s going to create an awestruck respect of its imagery, but 20th Century Fox’s Blu-ray presentation is top notch.

  • Encoding: AVC MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080p
  • Aspect Ratio:40:1
  • Clarity/Detail: Close-ups reveal a good amount of detail of actor’s faces that help the emotional heft.
  • Depth: Some of the discs deeper images do lack perfect detail, but it’s something that will easily go unnoticed to casual viewers
  • Black Levels: This category is one that might elicit a laugh when talking about this particular film, but in all seriousness the presentation does a fine job in its recreation.
  • Color Reproduction: Colors are sharp and mostly natural, except for intentional scenes soaked in amber or blue tones.
  • Flesh Tones: The skin tones are all natural and authentic looking throughout.
  • Noise/Artifacts: Nothing noticeable

Black or White


Again, this isn’t the disc you’ll use to present your new surround sound system, but the disc provides a lifelike immersion to its scenes.

  • Audio Format(s): DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
  • Dynamics: Well balanced between clean audio and score tracks.
  • Low Frequency Extension: LFE is utilized to bring balance to the presentation.
  • Surround Sound Presentation: This is a spoken word heavy film, but there are some scenes which showcase environments that surround the viewer with believable sound moments
  • Dialogue Reproduction:  Spoken words were clear and intelligible, and a major focus of the soundtrack

 Black or White


20th Century Fox’s Blu-ray includes a redemption code for an Ultraviolet Digital Download.  No audio commentary is available, but the single disc contains the following extras:

  • Shades of Gray: The Making of Black or White (1080p, 23:54): A brief behind-the-scenes doc featuring interviews with Mike Binder and several members of the cast.
  • Promotional Featurettes:
    • Kevin Costner Featurette (1080p, 2:02)
    • Family First Featurette (1080p, 2:12
  • Theatrical Trailer (1080p, 2:37)

Black or White


Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer give effective performances, and the film is not without its emotional moments, but it’s unfortunate that Black or White couldn’t tackle its subject matter with a bit more heft, both in its tug at the heartstrings and its examination of race in the modern day. It’s not bold in its politics, and therefore just winds up being a safe, fairly forgettable little film, something you won’t feel attached to, but one you won’t feel you completely wasted your time with either.


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Black or White


Reviewer/Actor/Director/Screenwriter, former film critic for PBS' nationally televised series Just Seen It, and an MFA graduate of USC's School of Cinematic Arts. Favorite films include ROCKY, DIE HARD, GHOSTBUSTERS, THE GODFATHER, and television shows such as TWIN PEAKS, THE X-FILES, and THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

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