Won't Back Down may sound like an apt title for an action film filled with bloodlust, but it's more civil, although it is about picking a fight and doing battle against establishment that had not benefited nor served the average man, or in this case, woman on the street, and those that it represents, protects, or serves. The USA centric storyline will require a little reading up on the background of the Parent Trigger Law passed in California, which allows parents to enforce overhauls in public school administration, and basically have a say in how things are run. This story is inspired by that, written by Brin Hill and director Daniel Barnz, to become a true underdog struggle.
Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis headline the movie, playing the two interest groups that are affected broadly by change that's impending for the Adams Elementary school, where the former plays a single mom Jamie Fitzpatrick whose daughter Malia (Emily Alyn Lind) is enrolled in the school but being dyslexic, learns almost nothing but still got passed through the levels because frankly, nobody cares. Davis plays one of the many teachers in the school, but as Nona Alberts, she probably is the only teacher who cares about the proper education of her students, but is getting little support and attention. Add to that, she also has a son Cody (Dante Brown) who's a little bit slow to learn. Put two and two together, and joining forces, they would take on the administration, unions, and fellow teachers to try and convince everyone there's a better place they can elevate everyone's position to.
The film may seem to have an axe to grind with educational bureaucracy, since many characters on the other side are portrayed as emotionless, wanting to keep the status quo because rocking the boat doesn't serve their purpose (probably expanding their scope of work). The usual fat and lazy labels are easily applied to every bureaucrat, even making them take on the usual hiding behind the cloak of anonymity, or throwing arguments out the window because of technicalities, and the list goes on. Tasked to taking a stand publicly and individually, is probably in the fantasy fiction arena, but undoubtedly proving to be quite delicious an experience when things had to come to an explosive, though expected, conclusion.
And for those who are anti-establishment, you'd probably attest to the myriad of games and dirty tricks those in power will play, in order to squash ideas and ideals that are not to their advantage. Things like character assassination, coercion, threats made on livelihoods and jobs, and enticement with benefits to the leaders to give up the good fight and abandon the rest fighting for the same ideals. And if one is up against positions of power, then expect one's history to be scrutinized, and blotches made a mountain of. It will reveal character then, if one can stomach the good fight for something one believes in, or throw in the towel to back away, disappointing many in the process, especially those who had responded and heeded the call to assist.
Being a film, one will expect the usual Checkov's gun being cocked early and unleashed when required, providing meat into a subplot to show how deep the establishment's reach can get, especially when one is under threat. And the film is naturally never without a romantic angle, provided by another teacher at Adams Elementary (played by Oscar Isaac) who finds the time to romance the very busy Jamie Fitzpatrick, having to juggle a number of jobs, odd hours, attention paid to her daughter as well as to fight the good fight against social injustice. At times though, the pace and narrative needed tightening, as elements and scenes got introduced for the sake of adding some further depth to a character, without real necessity to do so, such as Nona's deeply buried history concerning her kid.
If looked from a bigger picture angle, Won't Back Down applies beyond the US school system context, and is often reflective of experiences of those fighting for causes they believe in, going up against a behemoth called the system, organization, or establishment that has resources and clout. It's a pure underdog story that could be enjoyed, even though it's about the dirty politics that get played out behind the scenes.