"Won't Back Down" is a movie so stupid and unoriginal it had to steal its title from a Tom Petty song.
In his “Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law,” Quincy’s favorite son, John Adams, declared “Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write,” a brilliant quotation that somehow finds its way into a movie so stupid and unoriginal it had to steal its title from a Tom Petty song. Yes, scholars, welcome to “Won’t Back Down,” a union-bashing flick destined to become a favorite of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. And wouldn’t you know, it comes from none other than Fox News’ cousin, Fox Films. Um, might there be a connection? I’m betting there is, given how profusely director David Branz blames teachers unions for the wide-spread failure of public schools instead of the huge tax cuts granted to the Richie Riches of America.
That’s not to say there aren’t some rotten apples at the front of our classrooms, nor is it an endorsement of the mediocrity that teacher tenure inspires. But to totally ignore how severely the government has cut funds to public schools is insultingly disingenuous. But then legislatures don’t make as great a villain as lazy, good-for-nothing teachers. So that’s what we get, as Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis join forces to play the anti-Norma Raes campaigning to throw out the “bums” by taking over their kids’ failing Pittsburgh school named, ironically, John Adams Elementary.
Elementary is right! There’s nothing daring, challenging or original in what proves to the quintessential cookie-cutter drama matching our two Davids against the teachers union Goliath. If you sense you’ve seen this movie a dozen times before, it’s because you have. And Branz, who co-wrote the screenplay with Brin Hill, leaves no cliché unturned, giving us everything from the climactic showdown in a giant auditorium, to union-busting teachers joyfully doing a line dance at a local bar. We also get the evil-witch teacher who treats a dyslexic student (Emily Alyn Lind) with utter disdain, and a teachers union boss (Holly Hunter) who resorts to bribery in a quest to get the feisty duo to call off their plan to take over Adams Elementary and turn it into – God forbid – a charter school. And while we’re striving for full-bore silliness, why not also toss in a hip, hunky educator (Oscar Isaac) known in the teachers’ lounge as “Sexy Texy” for Gyllenhaal to fall instantly in love with.
As if all that isn’t bad enough, it gets even worse, much worse. But I’d spend all day assigning failing grades to every aspect of the movie except one: the performances. Yes, as awful as “Won’t Back Down” is in its intent, content and execution, it remains imminently watchable because Gyllenhaal, Davis, Hunter and fellow past Oscar nominees Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Rosie Perez are just so darn good. In fact, if not for the film’s egregious, backwards politics I might well have lost myself in all the hokum. But the rapid accumulation of clichés and rampant stupidity made me so weary, I could hardly wait for the dismissal bell to ring.
Page 2 of 2 - WON’T BACK DOWN (PG for for thematic elements and language.) Cast includes Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Holly Hunter, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Rosie Perez and Oscar Isaac. Co-written and directed by David Branz. 2 stars out of 4.