Directed By Alex Kendrick
Starring – Alex Kendrick, Shari Rigby, Pricilla C. Shirer
The Plot – Life changes overnight for Coach John Harrison (Kendrick) when his high school basketball team and state championship dreams are crushed under the weight of unexpected news. When the largest manufacturing plant shuts down and hundreds of families leave their town, John questions how he and his family will face an uncertain future. After reluctantly agreeing to coach cross-country, John and his wife, Amy (Rigby), meet an aspiring athlete (Shirer) who’s pushing her limits on a journey toward discovery. Inspired by the words and prayers of a new-found friend, John becomes the least likely coach helping the least likely runner attempt the impossible in the biggest race of the year.
Rated PG for some thematic elements
– Not preachy. As an atheist, when I watch a religious movie, I brace myself for the endless amounts of propaganda and childish reality checks towards on-screen Atheists that proves their heart of God was in the right place. Thankfully with “Overcomer”, this isn’t fully the case, as the movie is professional enough to keep its focus on the development of the movie, instead of pushing an agenda. Sure, the religious talk in the film still feels overly shoe-horned in, and further convolutes a third act that already had its own problems, but the discussion on faith is one that remains respectable and knowledgeable for its kind, etching out a respectable side of believers that we unfortunately don’t get enough of, thanks to production companies like Pureflix.
– Humorous. This one I totally wasn’t expecting, as not only was this movie’s first half geared almost entirely towards the comedy genre offering, but it actually connects with an intended laugh more times than not. This is especially refreshing for religious movies, as their characters don’t often beat to the drum of human impulse, yet here these characters feel every bit as fleshed out in personalities as they do transparent in their overall lack of god-like shield. It’s sitcom humor, but effective none the less, and it springs forth this enticing introduction to characters that helped with our overall investment towards them, giving us delightful humiliation along the way that proves Kendrick as a screenwriter and lead protagonist isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.
– Gut-wrenching performances. For a mostly amateur cast of actors, each of them possess the gift of gab not only through committing to the dialogue, but also through some dramatic heft that they transfer through to seamlessly. For my money, the show-stealer is easily Shirer, whose combination of free-flowing tears and fragile vulnerability cast her decades ahead of her experience, and cements a control over the meat of the story that depended on her so endlessly. Also great is Kendrick, who outlines a blue collar values husband, father, and teacher, who may be my single most favorite character ever in a religious film. The reason for this is his timely deposits in humor, as well as the gripping unraveling that he takes throughout this town of his that is falling apart at the seams. Alex seems like the chain that is holding so many aspects together, and never does his character completely fold under the pressure, proving wonderfully how one person can have such an impact on a dire situation.
– Economics 101. I give this script a lot of respect for focusing on the trickle down effects of a small town losing its vital resource, and the way it diminishes so many other institutions. As mentioned in the plot, the town plant closes down, which in turn takes away jobs from many parents, which in turn forces them to move elsewhere to seek work, which in turn removes the talented athletes from the school where they made their names. Not only does this angle depict the fragility of a small town so vividly, but it also plays beautifully into the central conflict of the film, which finds so many characters seeking new identities. As far as thought-provoking material goes, “Overcomer” gives a microphone to those lower populated towns, and turns up the volume when the confines of economic claustrophobia starts to weigh in, giving thought to a scenario that sadly isn’t covered as much as the big cities are on 24-hour news networks.
– As a sports film. Cross Country isn’t exactly a sport that intrigues me, but the film does a solid job in coming down to my level of inexperience to teach, all the while remaining truthful to the purists who, like Hannah, grew up playing the sport. It embodies it for what it truly is; an endearing marathon that every other sport athlete shudders at when they even think of attempting it. As for Hannah, it transforms her in a commitment that requires her to change her eating habits, build her endurance one mile at a time, and take one butt-kicking after another when it comes to competing with other girls who have done the sport all of their life. In the heat of the moment, the film documents it with several long-take camera shots and a barrage of pulse-setting audio that contrast believability to the actors in focus, and reminds the audience of the intensity in the moment.
– Spreading value. “Overcomer” was filmed on a budget of only five million dollars, and while that may sound like a lot on the surface level, the reality is that it’s an independent film budget for something receiving a big screen release. So how do they make up for it? Well, the camera work, especially in the adrenaline-pumping races feel very calculated, and full of personality that doesn’t come from conventional shot compositions of the genre. In addition to this, Kendrick has stated in interviews that the actual cameras themselves were the very same ones that filmed the original Avengers movie. This could be the catalyst for change in the genre, and it’s one that is needed, considering I am instantaneously taken out of these movies on presentational value alone.
– Predictability. This comes in the form of two twists and a series of genre tropes that make it easy to telegraph within the first half hour of the movie. Not only did I accurately predict the two twists in question, mainly for how every black character in these movies have to be related in some way, but never once did the film deviate even slightly from the most conventionally cliche’d television offering. Even the final race itself turns out in the exact way that you would expect it to, where everything that made the movie grounded in its approach turns to fairytales in sewing everything up all neat and tidy so the audience doesn’t head home with even an ounce of life reality.
– Mundane music. The musical score from composer Paul Mills is boisterous and completely meandering when it comes to triggering its sensitive audience. To say this is manipulative is an understatement, but the volume increases by Mills don’t feel natural in the slightest, nor do they offer the slightest increment of depth or complexity for its tones. This is every emotion bottled down to its smallest and inconsequential form, even going so far as to serenade us with ominous numbers when a bad character comes into focus. If this isn’t enough, the film also samples the current day pop hit “You Say” from Lauren Daigle, shaping particular lyrics in a way that makes them sound like they were made to compliment faith. This is as dirty as a film could get, and even despite the paycheck, if I were Daigle, I would be livid to have a song about physical love reduced to this propaganda.
– Fake cinematography. Even with this being a better overall film than 95% of religious offerings, the consistency in artificial cinematography that lacks any kind of artistic merit is carried over in this film. You’ve seen it before, it’s the same hazy, outline that is cemented with a feeling of God looking down from above in the form of a warm glow that radiates as subtly as a Sherman tank going through a nitro glycerine plant. It capitalizes on an aspect of visual storytelling that has been done hundreds of times before it, and stitches itself to films that are beneath it in nearly every productional category but this one, because it finds unnecessary visual metaphors alluring. If you’re going to spoof religious films, this is easily the first thing that you must capture.
– Third act issues. For roughly the first 70 minutes of this film, everything is running smoothly. Even the near two hour run time is paced in a manner that allows it to flow with urgency in storytelling movements. But the second half begins, and particularly in the third act, this once compelling piece of dramatic cinema converts itself to a religious romp that never relents. Until this point, there was very little mention of God, but it’s thrown into overdrive in four straight scenes where the same thing is being said by four different characters, pounding the pacing in a way that makes the last thirty minutes of the movie feel like you’re running in the very same marathon that Hannah is. Aside from repetition, there’s the mountain of predictability that I previously mentioned, and it turns what could’ve easily been a good late summer surprise into a barely passing final grade.
My Grade: 6/10 or C-