Reviews: Some Critics Equate 'Won't Back Down' With Propaganda

Politicians, charter school advocates, businesses and educators are weighing in about this movie, but does it work well as entertainment?


This movie opens with a little girl who's upset because she can't read words on a blackboard. No surprise there: the child is dyslexic, we later learn. Her teacher is an unsympathetic, texting troll who's a union member, secure in her job.

The little girl's feisty, gritting, beautiful mom (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a single mother working two dead-end jobs who's also dyslexic, decides her daughter needs a better education and a better school. She convinces a disheartned teacher in that school (the wonderful Viola Davis) to work with her to take over the school, invoking the parent trigger rule, and to transform it into a wonderful institution.

The story is inspiration. We learn, from the movie, that "it's based on true events," but that's a bit of a stretch. Critics are having a hard time separating the movie, as art, from the heavy-handed political message that teachers' unions are bad and are killing education. Here's what some are saying:

The real question is, ultimately, are the movies art -- in which there's room for conflicting ideas and three-dimensional characters? Or are they propaganda, in which thoughts are reduced to slogans, and people to a simple image that can be printed on a poster? And that's where "Won't Back Down" falls short. Every school board member here is a fat cat; every union official a self-interested sneak; every parent a responsible, salt-of-the-earth, blue-collar worker; every child willing to learn. Real-life factors in education -- such as drugs or crime or abusive homes -- don't count at all.

Newhouse News Service

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. Someone needs to launch an investigation into what combination of crimes, dares, alcoholic binges and lapses in judgment got Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal into this movie…. the 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. Andrew O’Hehir, Salon

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 (Viola Davis) is trying to decide if she should work with Jamie (Maggie Gyllenhaal), 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. Kenneth Turan, LA Times


Carmike Cinema

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Steven Janiszewski October 21, 2012 at 02:32 AM
Blue collar moms used to be Democrats.  If Romney wins them over, he might win the election, which would be tragic. If he were elected, there would be no separation between Church and State. The USA would become a Mormon Nation. To gain an existential understanding of the cult that produced Mitt Romney, and to get your socks scared off, read The Assassination of Spiro Agnew, available in paperback and e-book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=...search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=The+Assassination+of+Spiro+Agnew Its unwilling, part-Mexican Mormon assassin dramatizes the Mormon superiority complex, manifesting it as racism, sexism, jingoism and an anti-federal government temperament. His research in the new library reveals ominous similarities between Islam and Mormonism. The spiritual power behind the cult, which is not the Holy Ghost, acts out. "With a clarity of language and vision unsurpassed in contemporary American prose, Steven Janiszewski's Assassination of Spiro Agnew takes us into a U.S. mazed with madness and Mormonism and all things Utah, a U.S. that was then and still is. Do we need a novel, even as brilliant as this one, about a young man on a divine mission to assassinate the Vice President because he is too liberal? Yes, now more than ever. Readers, welcome to a masterpiece." Tom Whalen www.tomwhalen.com Read The Assassination of Spiro Agnew.


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