Film Review: ‘Won’t Back Down’ is an Agenda Disguised as a Film
CHICAGO – There is an interesting trend in the financing of films, actual partisan organizations are fostering their points-of-view through the movies. This is nothing new in documentaries, but now it appears in a fictional film called “Won’t Back Down,” featuring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis.
Walden Media partially funded the film, and they are part of the Anschutz Film Group, owned by a conservative activist named Phillip Anschutz. His goal is public school reform, and in doing so also is taking on the teacher’s unions, who are blamed in part for the poor performance of the fictional Pittsburgh school in the film. Cranky Phil might have started with a decent or even plausible script, because everything presented in “Won’t Back Down” severely tests reality. If Anschutz wants the audience on his side, make a better movie.
Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a lower income, single mother trapped in a Pittsburgh school district that won’t give her dyslexic daughter (Emily Alyn Lind) a decent education. In the mother’s desperation to help her progeny, she turns to another teacher named Nona Alberts (Viola Davis) who has family issues of her own, and pleads with her to take advantage of a Pennsylvania law that allows a parental takeover of a failing school.
Despite two jobs, the plucky single mother knocks on doors and rallies teachers, including Ms. Harper (Rosie Perez) and hunky Mr. Perry (Oscar Isaac). In the midst of trying to convince a school district to make change, the teacher’s union rallies against Jamie and Nona, publishing propaganda and worrying insiders like Evelyn Riske (Holly Hunter). Bureaucracy has nothing against a determined single mother, so this failing school may stand a chance to redeem itself.
Photo credit: Kelly Hayes for Walden Media