Myopic, Frustrating 'Blindsided' Should've Stayed in the Dark

Directed by: Joseph Ruben; Runtime: 90 minutes
Grade: D

Perhaps expecting more from the quietly-released Blindsided (aka Penthouse North) was a bad idea, but it's hard not to get caught up in some of the potential with the talent involved. Michael Keaton playing a cunning gangster who's attempting to persuade a recently blinded war photojournalist, played by the delightful Michelle Monaghan, to fork over something secret and valuable? Sounds promising, if familiar, especially considering the buzz that Keaton recently earned for the addled lunacy of his performance in Birdman. Little more than a boilerplate one-location thriller emerges from Sleeping With the Enemy and The Forgotten director Joseph Ruben, though, whose idea of novelty comes in how far the film can push the audience's buttons while confronting a sightless, shell-shocked woman. An unpleasant and dopey piece of exploitation comes into view that overlooks the nuance of these characters in pursuit of shallow manipulation, mustering only trivial interest due to the dedicated performances of the central leads.

Blindsided begins by following a squad of soldiers through Afghanistan, where embedded photojournalist Sara Frost (Monaghan) captures the rigors of combat. An unfortunate situation and judgment call leads her towards a suicide bomber in an abandoned building, the explosion which leaves her permanently blinded. Cut to several years later, where Sara continues to acclimate to her new life without sight, aided by her relationship with handsome dude Ryan and a sparse, beautiful apartment high up in a New York building. On one of her rare walks out into the city, a vandal (Barry Sloane) uses her absence to plunder the home -- and assault her boyfriend -- in search of something valuable, and his failure to locate it puts Sara's life in danger by both he and his "boss", Hollander (Keaton). With Ryan's body incapacitated and bloody on the kitchen floor, Sara's left to her own devices and knowledge to get through the ordeal.

The circumstances of Sara's blindness can be frustrating due to the naivete and questionable awareness built around her combat situation, but they'd be passable for the sake of sympathizing with her had Blindsided followed through on that dramatic foundation and deepened the character. Unfortunately, the script from Obsessed and Nurse 3D writer David Loughery limits her prior history to little more than plot devices, topping off her lack of sight with post-traumatic stress not as a means of depicting her steadfastness against adversity, but as a way of merely hiding details around her and shaking Sara up where needed. Since these are the only elements that really separate Blindsided from its obvious but unmentioned inspiration, the pseudo-Hitchcockian Audrey Hepburn vehicle Wait Until Dark, it's disappointing to see something as profound as Sara's harrowing, worldly experience get wasted on superficial machinations. Come to think of it, aside from the ending, even her blindness doesn't really factor into the story's progression all that much, merely forcing her into the limitations of a powerless victim who may or may not know where something's located in the apartment.

Instead, Blindsided merely uses Sara's condition for an added layer of pity atop what's unleashed on her by two physically capable, dangerous men driven by greed and malice, and that's about it. A contemptible tone fills the classy metropolitan apartment as a result, punctuated by their torment towards the woman whom they're fully aware is blind and battle-scarred: hurling heavy objects at her feet for a loud bang, tossing her body around like a rag doll, even waterboarding her later on. Her assailants are straight-up volatile bad guys who take pleasure in both the physical and verbal attacks, producing a rather spiteful cinematic endurance run once the threats lead to more unsavory abuse and animal cruelty. Keaton turns in a menacing, loathsome performance as Hollander and Michelle Monaghan filters her innately sympathetic -- yet subtly devious -- attitude through on-the-nose blind mannerisms as Sara, yet they're both wasted on simplistic renditions of a twisted criminal and their prey respectively. Barry Sloane's brutish enforcer, whose empathy and survival instincts are manipulated by both Hollander and Sara, possibly shows more complexity than either of them.

A few mysteries remain hidden under the floorboards of Blindsided leading up to the end, about the identity of Sara's wealthy boyfriend and about the stash of riches in their apartment, but they're about as insignificant as the rest of the film's pursuits. Happenstance and contrivance make the suspense ring false as Hollander forces his way closer to revelations, putting Sara -- and the audience -- through the ringer with manipulative tactics, further pursuing that objectionable mood. Thing is, this doesn't shape into the tale of Sara's perseverance and resourcefulness that it seems to think it's becoming, or would like to become, where scenes of physical and psychological torture come across as ruthless for no other reason than shock value. Whatever significance or enjoyment there might be in rooting for Sara to gain the upper hand gets lost in a haze of fireworks, broken pots, and a woman going into labor, never managing to blindside those watching with any worthwhile surprises.

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