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The pedigree of this Maggie Gyllenhaal/Viola Davis drama has 'Oscar bait' stamped all over it, but it ultimately misses the mark....
Fox / 121 Minutes / 2012 / Rated PG / Street Date: January 15, 2013
Won't Back Down wants to be inspiring in a Dangerous Minds kind of way, but smoke never becomes fire within its two-hour running time. Based on true events, Won't Back Down doesn't take many opportunities to inflate or grandly intensify its biographical elements, and this dramatic stasis is what leaves it so flat.
The movie is a saga about something called the Parent Trigger Law, a piece of legislation that allows parents a heightened degree of influence and potential action when it comes to schools that aren't giving the kids the sort of education they deserve. When Jamie (Maggie Gyllenhaal) reaches the decision that her dyslexic daughter Malia (Emily Alyn Lind) isn't being taught the way she should be, she starts up a Norma Rae fight for justice - and she brings a teacher frustrated with the system (Viola Davis) along with her.
But director Daniel Barnz never cajoles his nonfiction source material into flow here: even with the participation of actresses as accomplished as Gyllenhaal and Davis, Won't Back Down feels movie-of-the-week grade, without ever diving deeply into the psyche or dramatic truth of its characters. As a paint-by-number true story, it pretty much works - it would feel right at home as a Lifetime movie - but cinematically, it falters.
Won't Back Down has its heart in the right place, of course, but its narrative thinness ends up capsizing its potential as a dramatic affair. Performances here are fine, and there's a sturdy degree of high-profile production design that lends a reality to the events on display, but at the end of the day, it's unfortunately quite easy to call Won't Back Down a missed opportunity, a picture that tries to point out issues with our school system, but ultimately fails to make any kind of lucid statement about it.