Movie Review: 'Won't Back Down' - 3 stars
Won't Back Down
Directed by Daniel Barnz
Starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Oscar Isaac, Holly Hunter
"Won't Back Down" is what you might call a meat and potatoes movie. It's basic, dependable fare that's cooked well and goes down easy.
From director Daniel Barnz, this inspirational school drama hits all the usual notes, save one: Instead of depicting a teacher's magical classroom impact, the movie tells the story of a determined mom (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and a fed-up educator (Viola Davis), who band together to spearhead the takeover of a failing Pittsburgh school.
Barnz, who co-wrote the screenplay with Brin Hill, operates in literal, on-the-nose dramatics, casting Gyllenhaal as another one of her fierce, don't-mess-with-me types and actually including the Tom Petty song that shares the movie's title (albeit over the end credits).
That the bad guys in a mainstream Hollywood movie are teachers' union bigs says a lot about the state of the education debate today, but Barnz shies away from politics. The filmmaker never impugns his educator subjects and refuses to offer a carte blanche condemnation of big labor.
The movie is hackneyed at times, but fundamentally it's a straightforward character piece, offering a spotlight for Davis' typically strong acting and an affecting underdog premise. The characters' noble pursuit, saving their kids' future, is worth celebrating and "Won't Back Down" does so in a formulaic but convincing fashion. Sometimes, that's enough.