In an election season involving disagreement over the value of unions, Daniel Barnz’s film “Won’t Back Down” is a relevant, albeit very simplistic, discussion of the bureaucratic nightmare that is the public education system. The drama emphasizes the elements that popularly characterize failing school districts — for example, the falsification of attendance records and the use of a lottery system to decide which children attend effective schools.
Its subject matter centers on issues that can provide a centerpiece for essential discussions on education reform. The plot questions what makes an effective and inspiring teacher, the role of administration in school environments and whether the bureaucratic leaders in the education system have students’ best interests at heart.
Maggie Gyllenhaal portrays the type of persistent, irritating parent with whom bureaucracy assumedly hates to interact. Her character’s behavior is so constantly irrational and unrealistic that her scenes quickly become uncomfortable to watch, and her relationship with her frustrated daughter is highly overdramatized.
The film’s biggest weakness is its depiction of Botoxed union leaders and administrators, who only ever converse while hurriedly marching in and out of brick buildings with Escalades strategically parked in front. They are used to embody, as one particular bureaucrat puts it, a belief in “the truth of Social Darwinism.”
The only redemption is Viola Davis, who must be one of the most beautiful actresses to grace the screen of late. She provides a reluctant but much more inspiring reform leader than Gyllenhaal, and her comments are concise and purposeful. Despite the weak subplot involving her personal relationships, she remains the driving force behind the film and is fantastic to watch.
“Won’t Back Down” is a must see for anyone studying education or politics, not because it is good (it is only mediocre), but because it provides an excellent case-study for debate and discussion.
“Won’t Back Down” is currently showing at Gallatin Valley Cinemas. Visit gohollywood.com for tickets and showtimes.