Won't Back Down (2012) Poster

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8/10
Look Beyond the Controversy
truiz11 October 2012
For as long as there have been schools, there have been good teachers and bad teachers, involved parents and uninterested parents, naturally gifted students and those students who struggle. Perhaps there is more good than bad today, then again perhaps not. It can't be ignored, though, that there are schools, and even entire areas, where students are failing at an alarming rate. Teachers alone can't fix this. Parents alone can't fix this. Even most students alone, barring the most motivated and gifted among us, can't fix this. It takes good teachers, involved parents, and students who have made a commitment to excel, to fix this problem. That's what we get in Won't Back Down.

You might hate the supposedly anti-union message, or turn up your nose at the idea that a child is scarred for life by one bad teacher, but neither of these are reasons to disregard this movie. First of all, while the movie does spotlight the downside of teacher's unions, there is plenty of union-love as well. And secondly, one bad teacher certainly can make the difference between a child who loves school and a child who dreads it, even if it's only for one year. And one bad year of school, especially elementary school where every learning experience is a building block for the later years, can be devastating.

I am highly sensitive to movies with a heavy-handed political agenda. I honestly didn't feel that here. I didn't take this movie as a guide to removing unions from schools. What I witnessed was the idea that if parents, teachers and students band together to make their school a better place, they can hope for a brighter future. Student by student, school by school, we can improve education in America. That people want to fight over whether teachers should be protected rather than whether students should be given an opportunity to excel, well that's really the crux of the problem, now, isn't it?

Beyond the controversial topics addressed, I found this film to be very satisfying. The plot was well-developed, Viola Davis and Maggie G played well off of each other, the children were very good in their roles, and the pacing was steady. It's always inspirational to see a group of people with very little in common come together for the greater good, and if nothing else you will definitely get that here. How can we not enjoy watching parents engaged in the school system and rallying to secure the future of their children? Don't watch this to pick apart (or champion) charter schools, watch this to remember just who education is supposed to benefit. Watch this and remember that good teachers could use a little encouragement, bad teachers should be called out, the system needs to be challenged every now and then, and children will respond to their environment, whether it's positive or negative, in ways that will surprise and sometimes amaze you.
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8/10
"Wanna take over a school with me?"
zoerobe3 October 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Is this movie corny, clichéd, sentimental, etc? Absolutely. Are some of the characters one-dimensional bad guys? Yep. Is it financed by someone with a lot of money who has his own opinion on the subject? Sure. This is true of most of the movies coming out of Hollywood, including "Trouble With the Curve," which isn't getting half the flack this movie is. If you want sophistication and nuance, go see an art house film. If you want to see a heartfelt film that raises questions about education and the future of America's kids, you may want to give this a shot. Some characters are pro-union, others just want what's best for their kids, others change their minds while others don't. Some bureaucrats in the movie are willing to help; others flatly refuse. That's also true in real life, and all these viewpoints are represented in "Won't Back Down."

Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a blue-collar single mom who decides to try and get support for radical changes for her daughter's elementary school, after trying and failing to get her daughter a better quality education in the current system. Joining her are Viola Davis, a veteran teacher who is beaten down, but not yet fully defeated, and Oscar Isaacs, a hunky "Teach for America" type, who doesn't want to focus on politics, at least at first. Other supporting players include Rosie Perez, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Holly Hunter, who all do a great job with an admittedly TV-movie of the week type plot and script, and I, for one, didn't check my watch once during the film.

The standout here is Davis, whose mother was a well-loved teacher, and who goes home and digs out some new material with which to challenge her young students, even before she agrees to the takeover plan. "We're all going to work a lot harder around here," she informs her class. "Including me." It's easier, in my opinion, to play the stereotypical young idealist crusader, whether teacher or parent, but how many movies flesh out the role of the crusty veteran? One message of the film, is that you don't have to wait for someone to change things for you. Even when everything around you is going downhill, an "average" person can still summon the strength to make a change in the quality of someone's life, whether big or small. And that's a message that's always welcome, if you ask me.
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10/10
Film with a heart made for those who have one
Vasiliy Brian Komendant7 October 2012
Reading some of the reviews here and elsewhere I was getting a feeling some people simply saw another film under the same title for I don't have another plausible explanation for the shortsightedness and narrow-mindedness of some.

The film is stunning in its emotional impact, immaculately written and stupendously directed, with incredible one-shots, meticulously motivated hand-helds, color nuances (overlooked by many) and above all breathtakingly thorough and subtle work with the cast. In the world of "block-and-shoots" and gimmicky self-indulgent "me-me-me's" this rare old school picture stands out and certainly makes many uncomfortable for it appeals to something buried under layers of tweets, pretense, status, rat races and such - the human heart. Human connection. This is the most life-affirming American film I have seen in over a decade without it getting too preachy, cheesy or boring. No chemistry between Maggie and Viola? That comment is beyond me. They are so different, they are so raw and painfully believable on their own, that their union gains power via this deliberate diversity of their characters. There is not a single face in a single frame that is not totally "there", the committed "non-background" nature of supporting cast and extras makes an incredibly detailed background, full of nuance, ever breathing and alive. As is every shot of the film.

The last comment I will afford regards the union matter. First if all - if someone really believes this movie is about unions (or against them) - I have nothing to tell them. They will be as deaf to my voice as they are to the writers'/director's which tells a story of mother's love, standing up for your rights, having hope and faith and moving mountains if necessary - if the loved one needs that. The school is just a background for all that to unfold, a setting, a subplot to me. Performances are Oscar-worthy, I could go on for pages and scene by scene describe the beauty and power of them (alas, only 1000 characters here). And one more word on the union issue - what makes this film so impactive and real is how valid both points are and how the film's creators made sure that nothing about that is black and white and took time to support and justify both.

So, if you are not ashamed to cry in a theater, if you are ready to embark on an emotional journey, if you are not afraid to think and doubt - go see this brilliant work of art.
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1/10
Like paying to watch a campaign ad
ljblind29 September 2012
While the actors in this film tug at our hearts, the force feeding of incomplete perspective causes one to question: Are we watching a screen play or are we getting played? The bad guys are too bad, and the good guys are too good. The film is also unbelievable in that the parents are without any alternatives but a drastic one. I left the theater with a disturbing feeling, not about our schools, but about the integrity of the producers, writers and director. The opening should have a SUPER that reads, A paid political announcement. You can get your money back from the management. What a waste of effort on such a timely issue as the quality of our children's education. So in the end a story about two caring women and their struggle to fix their school, is about a billionaire fixing the audience, truly an exploitation film.
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8/10
The Parent Empowerment Movement Has Begun... Embrace it!
gwen-488-24920728 September 2012
To Wont Back Down Critics: I am an Urban parent, so the question on the table is: "Are parents suppose to sit back and continue to allow education systems to continue to fail to effectively educate and keep safe millions of children because the defenders of "failure as an option" are not ready to embrace change in how we deliver education to children?

The Bottom line: if parents don't protect their children who will?

FYI the fictional parent Maggie was the actual "trigger" not some law! She saw a problem in the school and it "triggered" her into action! Don't be afraid that the modern civil/human rights issue has hit the big screen and the Parent Empowerment Movement has begun!
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7/10
Propaganda? Maybe, but still a good film
SnoopyStyle23 August 2013
Jaime Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and teacher Nona Alberts (Viola Davis) are both parents who are tired of their failing inner city school. They battle union boss Evelyn Riske (Holly Hunter) and others to take save the school and their kids.

There's no doubt that there is a pedigree of Christian conservative roots in this movie. The big name in production is Walden Media and they have their roots in Christian conservative ownership. So is it propaganda? Probably, but it's still a good movie.

This is a movie where the labor union is made to be complete villains, and disconnected to the teachers on the ground. They lie and bribe to save their own jobs. The teachers are either good or evil. The one bad teacher can't be just incompetent. She's is literally Evil. Having said that. It is a well made film. There is good. There is evil. There are obstacles to overcome. The acting is good. The story is compelling. Other than a couple of hokey moments and some slow spots, the story flowed well. So on the film itself without taking sides, this is a definite 7. sides, this is a definite 7.
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10/10
The Story is Reality
kidsin cyberacademy29 September 2012
Ignore the claims of shallow character development, predictable plot, over the top performances. If you have children in urban or suburban public schools, you know they are failing your children, and that the big city school bureaucracy is unable to change fast enough to help your children. If you have tried to improve your child's school, you will know this movie is true, you will cry in recognition of kindred souls, you will be energized to keep trying. Go see it.

In our situation, we have some public school choice within our county system. Our older child (4th-graders) was selected by lottery to go to a magnet school for high achievers. Our younger twins (2nd-graders), did not get selected in the lotteries we put them into. So we pulled them out and put them into a new (year-old) hybrid "brick and mortar" / cyber academy. On-site teachers work in conjunction with on-line teachers, using the K-12 online learning platform to deliver the state school curriculum. My wife and I are excited about this model, although it is more work for us as it includes daily monitored online involvement with each child's learning activities and interaction with their teachers, plus volunteer commitment at the brick and mortar school. There is opportunity for more-individual pacing of learning, and more-flexible school-day requirements.
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1/10
Dreadful Film in SO Many Ways
appianterrapts28 September 2012
Don't waste your time on this hackneyed, sloppy, simple-minded look at the education system in the U.S.. Although there are plenty of things to be annoyed, even outraged, about with regard to how children (especially low income ones) are educated in the U.S., you won't get any real insights into the complexity of the situation from this silly film. You'll just get aggravated regardless of which side of the issue you come down on. The only good thing about the film was Viola Davis' performance for the most part, but even she had several scenes that were royal clinkers, perhaps due to the pile of clichés masquerading as a script. Everyone else was either miscast, misdirected or just laughably one dimensional. Maggie Gyllenhaal was thoroughly embarrassingly over the top in such a bad way. Perhaps this was just a paycheck as the film was financed by people who hope to destroy the free education system in this country. This film certainly didn't bring any clarity or real humanity to the discussion.
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10/10
It's a Battle for Education in 'Won't Back Down'
rannynm29 October 2012
A two-hour-long movie would be expected to have its high points and low points, but KIDS FIRST! youth film critic Anthony Aranda says his favorite "part" is, actually, the entire two hours. The 10-year-old sees this as a film that, he says, "can teach people a lot."

And this Twentieth Century Fox release has sparked some discussion by parents who, also, want to make sure their kids' schools are the best they can be. In today's economic climate of budget cuts, it's a strong reminder of how important education is.

Won't Back Down Reviewed by Anthony Aranda See his full review on video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zR_M4vA7r20

This movie is awesome. I love it because it has lots of emotion and it's all because a kid has a terrible school and needs a new one so his mom and a teacher help, and I think that is great.

This movie is all about a kid who has a terrible school. So her mom and a teacher who works at the school NEWSLETTER BREAK think it's a bad school, so they go against the school to try to make a better one. They have to go through a lot to help the mom's daughter as well as the other kids at the school.

Some of the main characters in the movie are Jamie (the mom, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal), Malia (the daughter, played by Emily Alyn Lind), Nona and Michael. My favorite character is Jamie because she cares so much about her daughter that she works very hard to make a new school for her daughter and to shut down the other school named Adams. How she does this is by writing down tons of paperwork, and instead of sleeping she has to go to every house to see if they could team up with her. Luckily, she has a partner named Nona.

I could not pick a favorite part because the movie is so good that the whole movie is my favorite part. If I have to pick a favorite, I would probably say when Jamie has a big party to try to convince people to go against the school. There are cookies, a news team, shirts, FREE rulers and, to top it all off, Jamie gives a speech on why they should shut down Adams and build a new school.

I would recommend this movie for ages 7 and up because it's really made for an older audience. I still like it a lot and I think that my brother might like it, too, and he's 7, so 7 and up is good. The moral of the movie is really good and can teach people a lot. Go out and see this movie; it comes out in theaters on Sept. 28.
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10/10
Making a difference
DarkVulcan2928 September 2012
A single mother(Maggie Gyllenhaal) who has two jobs, and is struggling to make ends meat for her and her daughter. Her daughter has a learning disability, and discovers that she is being treated unfairly at her school because of it, she goes to the school to talk to the principal, but with no luck. Can't stand to see her daughter suffer, and does not want to just do nothing, so she organizes a petition in hopes to make the school a better place for learning, with of a teacher(Viola Davis). But will they win this fight?

Magge Gyllenhaal is great, not quite Oscar worthy, but still great. Now Viola Davis performance was Oscar worthy, if the academy does not nominate her, I'll cry. They both have great chemistry. And supporting players do well also like Holly Hunter, and Oscar Issac. Some teachers need to see this film, in hopes of reminding them of what's important. Great film.
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7/10
Does the Education of the future matter to you?
IJIN_Studios27 September 2012
If you have a child in school tomorrow, or plan to have a child in school in the next decade, go see "Won't Back Down". Not because the writing is good, or the acting is good, but because the story could be from your own backyard, your own child's school.

This isn't a summer blockbuster like the "Avengers", and audiences loved the "Avengers", but none of us are super-heroes, nor will we ever be. We are all capable of being the type of hero so well portrayed by Maggie Gyllenhall and Viola Davis - Parents. Every adult, that experiences this film will understand that it does not take super-powers and a shiny costume to be a hero to a child, or a community.

So, yes, educating the next generation does matter. Who's going to be your Doctor, your Lawyer, your CEO in 30 years...a child being born today. If that child doesn't get an adequate education...how will they be able to achieve their dreams? How will our country survive through a generation of D and C students?

Go and enjoy "Won't Back Down" for what it is - Sometimes funny, sometimes heartwarming, striving to make us all see that somethings are worth fighting for.
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10/10
Parents want excellence for their kids
jeffrey-hunt21 October 2012
I was attracted to this movie by the power of the trailers, and the movie didn't disappoint. It is an excellent depiction of the problems in an overly regulated and protected public school system, and more importantly, how parents will fight to get a quality education for their kids.

Many of the scenes are heart breaking. Why is it that parents have to struggle to get a proper education for their kids.

Viola Davis and Maggie G. both give very powerful performances. Davis' performance is as good as her role in 'The Help'. The viewer really feels the pain she has endured personally, and how she has slipped from her early passion for teaching. Glyenhaal's energy is infectious. No problem she faced discouraged her. She was masterful in how she turned each parent and teacher 'no' into a 'yes'.
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10/10
Inspirational & Bold
survivingateacherssalary14 August 2012
My totally honest opinion? I hate politics and don't believe they should be in the school system. Whatever is best for the CHILD. Schooling should NOT be about politics, who owns what, who makes what rules, etc. If it's best for the child's education then that is the final answer. This movie was incredibly inspiring to me and coincides with my passion for education – no matter where it comes from. I know that this is highly controversial but that is my two cents. If you can politics aside this movie is outstanding! The bravery and inspiration which the characters in this film show is incredible. It certainly made me want to go out and do something!
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1/10
Propaganda
Joseph Waters1 October 2012
It was really hard to sit through this film. I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting myself into, but I was just too curious. "Won't Back Down" is a propaganda film and not even cleverly disguised - just like "Act of Valor." My hope is that people are getting wise to this game and not falling for such embarrassingly blatant manipulation. The mainstream media includes entertainment, which is used to indoctrinate and reinforce certain viewpoints and crappy values that are useful to the ruling class. Trying to bash unions and public education is part of the latest privatization effort and an attempt to further erode and destroy institutions that are at least set up to benefit everyone, and not just enrich a small elite. Public education could certainly be improved, but it should remain in the public domain. Don't waste your time with this film. It is pure propaganda.
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4/10
It Raises Some Valid Questions But Still Irritates With A Too Obvious Political Agenda
sddavis636 July 2013
On the surface, what we have with "Won't Back Down" is yet another "fight the system" movie, and another one that deals with problems in schools - schools that are run by administrators and school boards who really don't want to listen to parents and their concerns, and filled with unmotivated teachers who are there to collect a paycheque and who, for the most part, don't really care all that much about the students they're supposed to be teaching. That's a pretty standard story. Like most of them, this is "inspired by true events" (another line that by now produces mostly a barely stifled yawn from me.) Now, in truth, this is based on actual events in the sense that the fictional John Adams Elementary School is a sort of composite school, with the teachers and parents also being composite, and the movie depicts the kind of struggle that went on in several schools in California (although, intriguingly enough, the movie is set in Pennsylvania) as parents tried to take advantage of new laws to allow them to essentially take over schools that were underperforming.

The whole "charter school" thing is foreign to me, since I'm not an American. I can imagine that trying to do this would be a difficult undertaking, and the movie points out (probably accurately) the roadblocks put up along the way by school boards and teachers' unions. The leads were Maggie Gyllenhall as Jamie Fitzpatrick, whose daughter is dyslexic, and Viola Davis as Nona Alberts, a teacher at Adams with a learning disabled son, who becomes convinced that Jamie is right. The two form an alliance to convince teachers and parents to sign on to the idea to force a vote by the school board on the takeover. Gyllenhall and Davis were both very good in the roles. The movie does what most "fight the system" movies do - it gets the viewer rooting for the underdog who's taking on the evil system.

This does, however, come across as heavy-handed and politically motivated, and certainly it's completely unsympathetic to unions. In fact, I spent most of the 2 hour run time feeling as if I was watching a never-ending conservative TV commercial, blasting away at the evils of unions and big government. The movie makes some valid points and raises some valid issues. What do we do about public schools that just aren't turning out educated kids? What do we do about unmotivated teachers who are protected by their union at the expense of their students? What do we do about school boards (or other levels of government) that just won't listen to concerns and follow their own agendas? All valid issues to discuss and debate. But they took this movie over in a way that made this whole movie seem too political, and in the end it turned out to be not so much inspiring as irritating to be perfectly honest. (4/10)
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5/10
Mostly a Political Polemic
LaurieMann2 October 2012
Won't Back Down is less a movie about living, breathing characters (with one exception) and more a political polemic about bad schools and bad unions. Viola Davis manages, as usual, to rise above surprisingly simplistic material and give a fine performance. But most of the characters were reduced to giving talking points, and some usually good actors gave surprisingly bad performances as a result. I know people worked very hard on this movie, and I'd like to be able to give it a more positive review...but I just can't.

This movie also made pretty good use of its Pittsburgh location, particularly nice use of the the incline. Points for the many sports-related T-shirts and the Giant Eagle bread.
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1/10
Anti - Union Propaganda
knash-130 September 2012
For a movie funded by right - wingers with an anti - union agenda, I give them props for the high production values of this film. I guess they could afford it. Aside from that one high point, the rest of it serves as propaganda against working class teachers. Overall, the movie is pretty average and it is not surprising it opened without much fanfare. Characters were generic and the story line moved in a predictable fashion. The over the top portrayal of corrupt "union bosses" was quite laughable.

In a few months time, it will likely be lost in the bins of discount DVDs at Walmart. Thus, if you still want to watch it, I'd wait till then to pick it up.
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5/10
The Vidiot Reviews
capone66617 January 2013
Won't Back Down

The hardest part about taking on a corrupt educational system is you having to raise your hand to ask permission to go to the washroom during talks.

However, the angry mothers in this drama are sans hall pass.

After noticing a lack of teaching at her daughter's (Emily Alyn Lind) school, concerned parent Jamie (Maggie Gyllenhaal) confronts her daughter's teacher.

Disturbed by the educator's apathy, Jamie takes her issues to the principal (Bill Nunn), but to no avail.

While attending a progressive education seminar, Jamie spots a teacher, Nona (Viola Davis), from Malia's school there.

Assuming an affinity for change, Jamie convinces Nona to help her take over the school.

A contrived concoction of real-life situations and Hollywood melodrama, Won't Back Down is plagued by easy answers and self-righteousness indignation.

Besides, how are teachers supposed to teach kids math when they're already busy potty- training and disciplining them for the parents?

(Red Light)

vidiotreviews.blogspot.ca
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7/10
A Nutshell Review: Won't Back Down
DICK STEEL29 December 2012
Won't Back Down may sound like an apt title for an action film filled with bloodlust, but it's more civil, although it is about picking a fight and doing battle against establishment that had not benefited nor served the average man, or in this case, woman on the street, and those that it represents, protects, or serves. The USA centric storyline will require a little reading up on the background of the Parent Trigger Law passed in California, which allows parents to enforce overhauls in public school administration, and basically have a say in how things are run. This story is inspired by that, written by Brin Hill and director Daniel Barnz, to become a true underdog struggle.

Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis headline the movie, playing the two interest groups that are affected broadly by change that's impending for the Adams Elementary school, where the former plays a single mom Jamie Fitzpatrick whose daughter Malia (Emily Alyn Lind) is enrolled in the school but being dyslexic, learns almost nothing but still got passed through the levels because frankly, nobody cares. Davis plays one of the many teachers in the school, but as Nona Alberts, she probably is the only teacher who cares about the proper education of her students, but is getting little support and attention. Add to that, she also has a son Cody (Dante Brown) who's a little bit slow to learn. Put two and two together, and joining forces, they would take on the administration, unions, and fellow teachers to try and convince everyone there's a better place they can elevate everyone's position to.

The film may seem to have an axe to grind with educational bureaucracy, since many characters on the other side are portrayed as emotionless, wanting to keep the status quo because rocking the boat doesn't serve their purpose (probably expanding their scope of work). The usual fat and lazy labels are easily applied to every bureaucrat, even making them take on the usual hiding behind the cloak of anonymity, or throwing arguments out the window because of technicalities, and the list goes on. Tasked to taking a stand publicly and individually, is probably in the fantasy fiction arena, but undoubtedly proving to be quite delicious an experience when things had to come to an explosive, though expected, conclusion.

And for those who are anti-establishment, you'd probably attest to the myriad of games and dirty tricks those in power will play, in order to squash ideas and ideals that are not to their advantage. Things like character assassination, coercion, threats made on livelihoods and jobs, and enticement with benefits to the leaders to give up the good fight and abandon the rest fighting for the same ideals. And if one is up against positions of power, then expect one's history to be scrutinized, and blotches made a mountain of. It will reveal character then, if one can stomach the good fight for something one believes in, or throw in the towel to back away, disappointing many in the process, especially those who had responded and heeded the call to assist.

Being a film, one will expect the usual Checkov's gun being cocked early and unleashed when required, providing meat into a subplot to show how deep the establishment's reach can get, especially when one is under threat. And the film is naturally never without a romantic angle, provided by another teacher at Adams Elementary (played by Oscar Isaac) who finds the time to romance the very busy Jamie Fitzpatrick, having to juggle a number of jobs, odd hours, attention paid to her daughter as well as to fight the good fight against social injustice. At times though, the pace and narrative needed tightening, as elements and scenes got introduced for the sake of adding some further depth to a character, without real necessity to do so, such as Nona's deeply buried history concerning her kid.

If looked from a bigger picture angle, Won't Back Down applies beyond the US school system context, and is often reflective of experiences of those fighting for causes they believe in, going up against a behemoth called the system, organization, or establishment that has resources and clout. It's a pure underdog story that could be enjoyed, even though it's about the dirty politics that get played out behind the scenes.
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7/10
Feel good film does exactly that despite a touch of unrealism
Robert W.14 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I suppose I am being a bit of a cynic in saying that this film makes changing the education system look so simple. Yes they struggle don't get me wrong but the film certainly glorifies idealism and makes everything end up in a neat little package with a bow. The school they create is like an idyllic paradise and that is simply unrealistic. However, now let me digress. There is nothing wrong with a film that makes you feel good, spreads hope and cheer and inspires change and this film does all that. It is sweet and uplifting and even fun at times and entertainment value is very high. It tries to channel something like Erin Brockovich while keeping things clean enough for a family film. Despite its G rating the thematic elements make it at least PG in my mind but still a good movie for the whole family. Performances are good without being really outstanding although I thought the lead performance by Gyllenhaal was just a little bit overdone at times like she was really trying for that outstanding Academy Award performance because this is seemingly the type of film that would get it for her. Unfortunately the film didn't do that well and its too bad because despite the few tiny little mis-steps it really is a great film.

As previously mentioned, Maggie Gyllenhaal is the co-star playing distraught mother Jamie whose dyslexic daughter is being lost in the system. She is good in her role but she really does milk it. I feel bad saying that because I feel like I'm trashing a feel good movie and I don't mean to be but sometimes she just takes the distraught mother to extremes. Viola Davis is brilliant. She does emotion and desperation brilliantly. She definitely helps bring Gyllenhaal's performance a little more under control as the two of them together are very good. Oscar Issac is decent as Gyllenhaal's love interest and a concerned teacher. He is very underused and his character is left very underdeveloped but he has some very good scenes nonetheless. Emily Alyn Lind as Gyllenhaal's daughter is very good. She really does a great job in each scene she is given. I think she is a very talented young lady (recognizing her from Revenge as well.) The supporting cast is a whose who of character actors including a decent and yet somehow awkward feeling performance by Holly Hunter, Lance Reddick, Vingh Rhames, Bill Nunn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. A very large and varied and talented cast.

Despite a lot of talent in the cast I don't necessarily think it was all used to its very best. I feel like there were several conflicts in the film that they really built up that they leave the audience hanging on. As the movie watcher you really wanted to see that one teacher who was just awful get her just comeupins and yet the entire conflict is left open. She forced the daughter to wet her pants and there was hardly even any confrontation. I felt like that was sloppy writing. At times the direction and script felt rushed and even slapped together. Its unfortunate because the film is so full of heart and hope and inspiration. But it does overcome its shortcomings and will make you smile and feel good and that is what counts. It only bothers me to see wasted potential and I think there was a fair bit of it in this film. Still the perfect movie for family night and you will certainly cheer multiple times for these passionate women. 7/10
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3/10
What is Ms. Davis doing here?
aharmas28 September 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Somewhere deep inside this production, a heart beat once. By the end it had suffocated, buried among all the half-developed script where people are barely sketches of real human beings, and the best thing we can say is that life is not quite black and white. Maybe someone in the production team cared about the subject matter. I'm not sure I can point who this person is.

After her extraordinary turn in "The Help", it's hard to dismiss the talent of Viola Davis, and she tries her best to continue showing her ability to command the screen. There are several scenes here which show her dedication to bringing characters to reality. Sadly, there wasn't much but an outline to give her role enough emotional drive. She does have chemistry with some of the actors here, but it's not enough to make an involving story.

Holly Hunter has a more interesting role, maybe because she's able to communicate her character's complexity more effectively since she has fewer lines but more key scenes. Even in her introductory scenes, we see that there is plenty of heart here, and it might someday wake up and surprise us. I have certainly missed her in the big screen.

The film seems to have forgotten how to treat this important subject matter. There are hints in the shape of loud scenes. Yet we don't really sense a true commitment to the subject matter. It's the equivalent of what an old episode in those old serials is to a full production movie. It barely scratches the surface. It feels like an idea without a heart, and that is what truly should be beating in this film.
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2/10
Seeing through it
Rhee Viewer2 October 2012
Clearly, this is a propaganda film, and one only has to examine its production history, its promotion and the players involved to know that. Those who would destroy public education or unions by exploiting children as a wedge are using vehicles such as this film to stay on message.

Pitting "adults against kids" is one of the shibboleths of contemporary education reformers, as exemplified by this fawning reviewer's comment: "people want to fight over whether teachers should be protected rather than whether students should be given an opportunity to excel, well that's really the crux of the problem, now, isn't it?"

Don't fall for it. Anyone with an ounce of sophistication willing to devote an hour to honest research can quickly learn that so-called Parent Trigger laws accomplish precisely the opposite of empowerment for parents and community in control of education. That's the real issue as this fiction relates to the reality which the producers hope to influence.

As to art of the film, who cares? I liked Gyllenhaal in Sherry Baby.
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6/10
Poorly marketed, received drama trying to fight the good fight
napierslogs10 November 2012
Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a single mother trying to hold down two jobs, struggling to afford a good education for her daughter. "Won't Back Down" is her fight to change the public school system. Joining her is a strong, tough, independent disenchanted black teacher, Nona Alberts (Viola Davis). It's a drama poorly marketed as anti-union propaganda and was just as poorly received.

The film isn't as bad as the critics' ratings, the dismal box office performance, or the word-of-mouth criticism suggests. It's certainly not great. The predictability, the cloying sentimentality, and desire for perfection make sure it won't reach the great heights that the film seems to have envisioned for itself. But for people who like dramas where a disenfranchised community comes together to fight against a system, the film does hit the right notes.

Overall the acting is great, even though Davis can kiss her award chances goodbye. Gyllenhaal was the only one that attempted to add some comedy to her role. She has always been great at melding together drama and comedy and more comedy always seems to be a good thing. The best role, however, was Oscar Isaac who played both Jamie's love interest and a teacher who was doing his best to not fail the students. He supported the union, respected his fellow teachers, respected his students, fell in love with Jamie and supported her cause even though his multiple stances would frequently be at odds. He also did all of the above with a guitar strapped over his shoulder and made little girls laugh with renditions of Johnny Cash songs. It's too bad he won't be able to garner any Oscar buzz.

I'm assuming one of the major issues with the failing of this film was the timing of the release. Although September marks the beginning of the school year, it is also a time of hope, optimism for the year that could be. Parents and children alike believing that this year they're going to find a teacher that inspires them and see their dreams for the future come true. It's not a time for the reminder that the public school education system sucks. This film would be better left for February, during the ides of winter, when students and parents alike are struggling to learn what they're supposed to know and have lost the optimism they had just six months earlier. At its best, "Won't Back Down" would be able to provide that lost hope; fighting the good fight, as long as that doesn't get too monotonous.
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6/10
Two Fine Actresses Lend Heart to a Jargon-Heavy Drama About Charter Schools and Parent Trigger Laws
Ed Uyeshima3 March 2013
If not for the emotional resiliency of the two lead actresses, this 2012 feel-good drama about the reformation of a failing inner-city Pittsburgh school would come across as no more than a polemic. However, Maggie Gyllenhaal ("The Dark Knight") and Viola Davis ("The Help") bring enough intense fervor to their roles of parent and teacher that this becomes a creditable film if not all that memorable. Director and co-screenwriter Daniel Barnz doesn't help matters much by stacking the deck so predictably in the script (co-written with Brin Hill) while tackling a serious exposition problem with a lot of education jargon that feels like it requires the viewer to take some preparation exam to watch it. Watching Davis Guggenheim's 2010 documentary, "Waiting for 'Superman'", is helpful since it covers similar territory by showing how students strive to become accepted into a charter school.

The plot here takes a more contrived route as it focuses on Jamie, a single mom holding down two jobs while becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of attention her eight-year-old, Malia, receives from her teachers in treating her dyslexia and dealing with bullies. Through happenstance, she finds a little-known piece of legislation based on California's "parent trigger" law, which allows parents and teachers, under certain circumstances and after rounds of approvals, to take over schools and run them entirely. This motivates Jamie to partner with Nona, a teacher at Malia's school, who has similar frustrations from an insider's perspective but has been stymied time and again by the system. The movie then takes us on their journey running through all the bureaucratic red tape that you would expect from an inspirationally- minded drama.

I give credit to Barnz and Hill for at least presenting a compelling argument against the cause by showing how the teachers' union would suffer major setbacks along the way. As Jamie, Gyllenhaal does her best work since her compelling turn as the struggling drug addict-mother in 2006's "Sherrybaby". She brings loose-limbed passion to her character's relentless drive toward realizing a charter school for her daughter. At first, Davis appears underserved by the script, but this actress has no problem conveying the gravitas and compassion needed to make Nona's evolution feel realistic. As Evelyn, the president of the teachers' union, Holly Hunter ("Broadcast News") - who would have likely played Jamie a couple of decades ago – brings palpable conviction to her character's increasing moral conflict. It's good to see Rosie Perez ("Fearless") again on screen as Nona's sympathetic fellow teacher. Other supporting turns amount to stereotypes as dictated by the script. The subject of the film is quite worthwhile, but the treatment needed far more texture.
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6/10
Stand up for better education in Won't Back Down
rgblakey25 February 2013
There are movies that come along based on inspirational stories and usually manage to deliver just on the story itself. When you give them a bit of a budget and some great actors then you have the possibility of creating something special. The latest film takes on the rarely talked about in film issue of education in Won't Back Down. With Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis leading the way could there be any chance this film doesn't work?

Won't Back Down follows two determined mothers whose children are failing in an inner city school, who team up to take back the school and turn it into a place of learning. Before they are able to change the school, they have to battle the parents, school board, and teachers union. While this isn't an actual true story like a lot of these films, it is based on various incidents of its kind. They don't break any molds or do anything that hasn't been done in some way before, but what is refreshing is who is under fire in this story, the education itself as opposed to those struggling to learn. The performances are all great and the movie works fine, but there is just something missing that most of these films have to really suck you in and that's that moment where those fighting the losing battle deliver a memorable moment that turns things around. Most likely trying to shove that into this story would have felt forced and cliché, it just lacked that needed punch to add the extra passion to make the movie step out of just another in a line of inspirational stories.

Make no mistake, this is a great movie, but isn't breaking any ground. If you enjoy these sorts of stories then you should check it out. Thanks to the two leads it takes a film that could have been pretty generic and turned it into something really good. If these two great actresses aren't enough to suck you in, the film also sports a great supporting cast as well including Ving Rhames, Holly Hunter, Rosie Perez and Bill Nunn so there is bound to be someone in there to peak your interest.
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