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Black Or White **1/2

Is it worth $10? Yes

Many films deal with the subject of race. Less do so while standing firmly in the corner of their angry white characters. That's not to say that "Black or White" is a modern day reboot of the controversial and KKK-championing ”The Birth of a Nation" (1915). Thankfully, it's a much more heartwarming time at the theater than that. It's a film that makes a case that race will always be a lingering issue because people of all colors are flawed, but most of all it is a film about family.

Kevin Costner, who has so gracefully become one of Hollywood's go-to old guys, plays Elliot Anderson, an attorney who is given sole custody of his eight-year-old mixed-race granddaughter Eloise (Jillian Estell) after his wife's sudden death. This development does not sit well with Rowena, the child's other grandmother played by Octavia Spencer in yet another powerhouse performance. Rowena feels that she should have full custody so that Eloise can grow up with a consciousness of her black roots and spend some time with Reggie (Andre Holland), her drug-addicted father.

This leads to a dirty, drawn-out custody battle in which each side hides behind race to excuse their true deep-seated issues. Rowena attempts to make the case that Elliot simply does not want Eloise in an all-black environment when, in reality, Elliot does not want the child around Reggie until he proves that he has cleaned up his act. Elliot plays the victim, a white man being unfairly dragged by the tide of political correctness, though his major handicap is his anger and a drinking problem that has rapidly worsened after the loss of his wife.

The title itself implies that "Black or White" knows the film it wants to be and shows no restraint in diving into difficult issues and asking difficult questions. However, this is more than a film about race. "Black or White" is also a strong indictment of custody battles. It holds a magnifying glass up to the legal system and exemplifies how the process does more to pull families apart than bring them together. Watching Elliot struggle through alcoholism to keep Eloise, the last person standing between him and complete loneliness, the sense arises that maybe he and Rowena's family need each other more than they realize.

It helps, of course, that writer and director Mike Binder ("The Upside of Anger," "Reign Over Me") also managed to find the perfect cast members to engage with the audience in every scene. Yes, Spencer and, more specifically, Costner, carry the film, but the stellar performances don't stop there. Anthony Mackie is powerful as Rowena's brother and attorney, Estell makes us fall in love with little Eloise, but the real standout here is Mpho Koaho as Duvan, Eloise's math tutor. Koaho provides the type of unique comic relief that is thoroughly needed in any film with this type of racial tension. Audiences are sure to smile any time he appears on screen.

The variety of performances speak to the many hats that "Black or White" wears as a film. It's part family comedy, part legal drama, with social commentary littered throughout. Sure, it has it's own flaws, mainly the fact that it's wrapped in a thick layer of cheese and melodrama. Beneath that, however, "Black or White" digs deep to find that while race may often be in the back of our minds, it is our choice whether or not we allow it to drag us apart.

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