It’s undeniable that Phil Robertson has been a significant figure in modern American culture. The reality TV show about his family, Duck Dynasty, was a phenomenon. He has been active in politics and religion. The Blind is a biopic about his early life. Robertson’s fans will certainly gel to it. Viewers less familiar with the man may enjoy it too, as it offers insight into how and why he has struck a chord with millions of people.
A framing device has Phil (Aron von Andrian) telling his tale to close friend Big Al Bolen (Connor Tillman) on a hunting trip. Via flashbacks, we see his impoverished childhood, where his father teaches him to hunt for food. As a teenager, he meets and falls in love with Kay (Amelia Eve). Shortly after graduation, they get married and have children. Phil develops a drinking problem, and before long, his life is less about family and more about boozing it up and shooting ducks. From there, the movie depicts how Kay turns to pastor Bill Smith (John Ales) – and eventually to God - for help in dealing with Phil’s destructive behavior, then how she inspires her husband to similarly seek healing through faith. Phil develops a revolutionary duck call in the process.
A big part of the appeal of The Blind is its rags-to-riches trajectory. We’ve seen a million stories about people coming from humble beginnings to hit it big, but the details are different every time. In this case, director Andrew Hyatt and his cowriter Stephanie Katz emphasize how everything that would lead to Phil’s eventual success came from what he learned as a child. The tools were always there; the excessive drinking just got in the way. Once he tackles that, a sense of clarity arises, allowing him to fulfill his destiny.
The film additionally works as a portrait of addiction. Without falling into overblown, melodramatic scenes, The Blind offers a realistic look at how alcohol dependence impacts a marriage. Various stages of Phil’s alcoholism are portrayed with accuracy, as is Kay’s breaking point where she recognizes that enabling his compulsion to drink is no longer viable. Aron von Andrian and Amelia Eve give fine performances that capture the shifting dynamics between Phil and Kay as they navigate the rollercoaster of codependence.
As far as the faith message goes, it’s delivered more organically than you might expect. Admittedly, dialogue in the wraparound scenes is much too on-the-nose, and a post-movie appearance from the real Phil Robertson needlessly spells out what we’ve just watched. During the main story, though, the idea of turning to God in times of personal struggle is dramatized with sincerity. Kay doesn’t know where else to search for help. She finds it in faith. Phil sees the difference it makes and follows suit, also not knowing where else to search. That earnestness is inspiring.
The Blind ends with the implication of what’s to come for Phil Robertson – an actual dynasty based on duck calls. Because he straightened himself out, several generations of Robertsons have become known around the world. More than anything, this is the thought-provoking center of the movie. Without sobriety, none of it would have happened.
out of four
The Blind is rated PG-13 for thematic content and smoking. The running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes.