PG (thematic elements, mild language); 121 min
There's nothing more alarming to power than people organizing themselves to usurp that power. That's the message of Won't Back Down, an inspiring story of a working-class parent hellbent on doing right by her child, and a once-idealistic teacher who reluctantly joins her in an effort to remake their school from a chronic failure that breeds chronic failures into a place that gives its kids a fighting chance.
Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis put on an acting clinic as single mom Jamie and struggling teacher Nona, who use Pennsylvania's school "fail-safe" law to change the culture at their Pittsburgh school, expecting more of their children, the kids' parents and the teachers who instruct them.
Jamie (Gyllenhaal) is a bubbly working-class mom, holding down two jobs and fretting endlessly over her daughter Malia (Emily Alyn Lind), a child with learning issues and a teacher who checked out years ago. She wants her daughter in Nona's class, where, despite bureaucracy, tradition, state requirements and union rules, Jamie spies the glint of a teacher who still cares.
Won't Back Down is a well-directed and edited film that gives most of its cast moments to shine and takes full advantage of the mercurial Maggie G. and simmering but fiery Davis. Daniel Barnz, who also co-wrote this "inspired by a true story" with Brin Hill, goes to some pains to pay lip service to the greater complexity here. Arrogant, political and reluctant-to-act school boards, exhausted or apathetic parents who don't want to add 20 hours of work to their week helping their kids, they all contribute to a school's failure.
-- Roger Moore,
McClatchy-Tribune News Service