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DVD Review: Won’t Back Down

February 5, 2013

Won't Back Down Blu-ray CoverWon’t Back Down – A 20th Century Fox Release

DVD Release Date: January 15th, 2013

Rated G for mature themes

Running time: 121 minutes

Daniel Barnz (dir.)

Brin Hill as (writer)

Daniel Barnz (writer)

Marcelo Zarvos (music)

Maggie Gyllenhaal as Jamie Fitzpatrick

Viola Davis as Nona Alberts

Oscar Isaac as Michael Perry

Holly Hunter as Evelyn Riske

Emily Alyn Lind as Malia Fitzpatrick

Dante Brown as Cody Alberts

Our reviews below:


Won’t Back Down DVD Review By John C.

**1/2 (out of 4)

Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a single mother determined to change the public education system for the better, by privatizing a local school.  Her daughter Malia (Emily Alyn Lind) is struggling with dyslexia, which is made worse by the failing John Adams Elementary.  Finding a loophole that would allow them to break away from the union, she teams up with teacher Nona Alberts (Viola Davis) whose own son Cody (Dante Alberts) is struggling, to rally her colleagues and other parents to help them turn things around for the students.

At times it feels like there is a little too much villainizing going on of the union in Won’t Back Down, which can make it feel like we aren’t quite getting a balanced view of the situation.  The film also runs a little too long at 121 minutes, and when Jamie’s own dyslexia becomes a plot point in the last act, it seems like a screenwriting trick to try and add a little more suspense.  But despite these shortcomings, Won’t Back Down is still worth a look for the solid performances of Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who consistently elevate the sometimes heavy handed material.  These two actresses are enough to give the film a passing grade.

The Blu-ray includes commentary with director Daniel Barnz, deleted scenes and a couple of featurettes.


Won’t Back Down DVD Review By Erin V.  

**1/2 (out of 4)

When single mom Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) discovers that her daughter is not getting the help she needs for her dyslexia at her school, she decides to do something about it.  Without money for a private school, she instead decides to take over the school with the help and support of the other parents, as well as one of the teachers (Viola Davis), who’s own son has his own set of learning challenges.

The film paints a picture of a broken education system, and is based loosely on a true story.  It may prove an interesting companion to the documentary Waiting For Superman, but other than for the lead performances (which are predictably good from Gyllenhaal and Davis) Won’t Back Down is just ok – passes the time, but not one that has to be sought out.


Won’t Back Down DVD Review By Nicole

**1/2 (out of 4)

Based on true events, Won’t Back Down tells the story of a mom’s determination to fix the education system in one rundown American elementary school in order to give her daughter a proper education.

Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a single mother who struggles with dyslexia.  Her daughter Malia (Emily Alyn Lind) also has dyslexia, yet local school John Adams Elementary won’t do anything about it, since the teachers won’t work past three.  So Jamie, along with Nona Alberts (Viola Davis), a teacher whose own son (Dante Brown) with learning challenges is struggling, pair up to get past the system’s red tape in order to reform the school.

Won’t Back Down shows a very one-sided look at the many problems that plague the American school system.  The film blames the unions and bad teachers, when part of the problem is that the schools are underfunded.  Fortunately, the situation is nowhere near as bad in Canada, where public education gets better funding.  What is clear from this film is that special education and multiple ways of teaching are needed for children who learn differently.

Won’t Back Down has decent acting and is quite watchable.  Hopefully the film will spark debate into a multifaceted problem with the American public schools.


Won’t Back Down DVD Review By Maureen

**1/2 (out of 4)

There’s nothing more powerful than a mother driven to protect her child.  Inspired by a true story, Won’t Back Down is about a hardworking single mother, Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) whose daughter Malia (Emily Alyn Lind) has dyslexia and is floundering at a mediocre public school, John Adams Elementary.  Jamie’s daily visits to the school on her daughter’s behalf are an annoyance to the school administration as union bureaucracy doesn’t allow for after-school tutoring or classroom changes.

Jamie manages to catch the attention of one of the teachers, Nona Alberts (Viola Davis) whose own son Cody (Dante Brown) struggles with learning difficulties.  The two women team up to take on the school board and take advantage of an obscure rule that would allow them to apply to take over the school if they can get the support of 400 parents and 18 teachers.  Jamie is a force to be reckoned with and her drive to change things is admirable.  With the support of another teacher, Michael Perry (Oscar Issac) and Nona’s increasing support and drive, the women are successful in reaching their goal.

Won’t Back Down reflects the state of the American education system more than it does the Canadian experience.  There is clearly a lot of union bashing going on in this story.  However, the main character’s determination to make change happen is inspiring.  This is a movie carried by the strong performances of the two leads.  Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis are always a treat to watch.  Though a little long at over two hours, Won’t Back Down is mildly worth checking out for the performances.


Won’t Back Down DVD Review By Tony

*** (out of 4)

Won’t Back Down is, like the recent Waiting for Superman, a tale of faint hope in the U.S. educational system. Many middle class Americans, already having to budget for private medical insurance, are also prepared to pay for private schools. As a result, many public school districts are filled with marginalized students but lack the resources to deal effectively with their needs. The scarcity of schools that do work, mainly due to exceptional staff dedication and innovation, leads to lotteries that leave a majority of applicants in further despair, a boon for private companies building the prisons that await many of them.

A disclaimer: as a retired Canadian teacher, I can’t help feeling smug. Except for the very rich and a few home schoolers most kids go to public schools. Schools that face challenges are given additional support rather than being written off. Teacher unions support excellence more than protect mediocrity. Teachers are well paid with good pensions, so moonlighting is optional, usually involving more teaching of evening or summer courses, rather than the menial jobs American teachers might find.

Won’t Back Down is about two mothers, Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Nona Alberts (Viola Davis) whose kids Malia And Cody have learning difficulties. Nona is a teacher in Malia’s inner city Pittsburgh school which for many years has scored at the bottom of its district in standardized tests. The only way to improve things is to stage a takeover of the school, requiring a petition of half the parents and teachers. Jamie and Nona are determined to try, but the petition is only the beginning.

With deliberately onerous planning requirements and endless timelines, district officials are cynically dismissive of their chances. Moreover, self-serving teacher union bosses already feeling threatened from the right bring their own intimidation, since staff in a takeover school are expelled from the union, losing all seniority, benefits and security. Even if they succeed in their own little school, the system as a whole will remain the same.

Given its message, Won’t Back Down can be forgiven for feeling heavy handed and melodramatic at times. However, Gyllenhaal and Davis are excellent as always, with a fine supporting cast, and the film in general is well made.


Consensus: Although Won’t Back Down is a little too long at 121 minutes and the story sometimes feels a bit heavy handed, the film is elevated by the solid performances from Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis.  **1/2 (Out of 4)

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