Overcomer Aug 31, 2019 16:50:08 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Aug 31, 2019 16:50:08 GMT -5
Directed by: Alex Kendrick
Directed by: Alex Kendrick
Coach John Harrison (Alex Kendrick) clocks the sole runner of his cross-country team in Overcomer.
Like a cross-country runner with a lot of talent but misguided energy, Overcomer starts strong to sag in the middle, but powers forward for an unexpected, triumphant finish. Not without the usual warts of its genre, this Christian drama manages mostly to keep human interest at the forefront, although it can't help but entirely reject the kind of nuance that so often makes good films become great within a matter of beats. The Kendrick brothers are the most reliable name in Christian cinema when it comes to quality stories, even if their tendency to lay melodrama on thick is still a problem.
Coming four years after their surprising box office hit War Room, Alex Kendrick and his co-writer/brother Stephen are admirable in their commitment to their craft because they clearly try to instill some specificity into a genre that's almost holistically defined by broadstrokes in regards to both characters and storytelling. Even their weakest pictures have some serious character development and focus on interpersonal relationships, which helps pad the inevitable preachiness that ostensibly comes with the territory of morally good filmmaking. Overcomer, despite a lofty, rather clumsy title, and heart-on-sleeve obviousness, this one sneaks by you, like a runner poised for a resurgence, so intently focused on themselves that they can hardly bother to take note of passing you in their pursuit for success.
With Overcomer, the film indeed achieves some. Alex Kendrick (also director) stars as John Harrison, a beloved basketball coach at a Christian high school. We open on the harrowing minutes of a championship game that ends with one of Harrison's players bricking a wide-open three-pointer. Harrison — like a prodigious Matt Nagy — tells the players to use the hurt of this moment to fuel them for next season. However, a local plant's closing months prior to the season forces thousands of blue-collar family to relocate, leaving the high school without a football team and with barely enough players for a 12-man basketball roster.
John is instead reassigned to coach the cross-country team. At tryouts, it seems like a cruel joke: the lone athlete who shows is an orphaned black teenager named Hannah Scott (Aryn Wright-Thompson), who has asthma, to boot, and clings to her inhaler while running. With the loss of another opportunity to coach a championship-caliber basketball team, John loses his identity, but upon meeting Thomas (Cameron Arnett), an elderly man whose diabetes has confined him to a hospital bed, John's mindset changes. He rekindles his relationship with Christ, and commits to coaching Hannah to be a breakout runner, which includes introducing her to someone from her past, much to the dismay of Hannah's protective grandmother (Denise Armstrong).
Admittedly some of this material comes off as religious pap, but the Kendrick brothers are smart to make the film as much about relationships as the predictable sermonizing. John and his wife's (Shari Rigby) relationship with Hannah is at the forefront of the picture, and some rock-solid acting by Arnett turns Thomas into more than a sorrowful caricature despite a limited physical presence. Arnett becomes an integral piece at the right time in the narrative, as things lightly shift away from Harrison's loss of identity to the more interesting angle in the form of a young woman looking for a purpose and a man on his literal death-bed seeking redemption.
It all sounds broad and buzzword-driven — because in some ways it is — but Overcomer is handsomely conceived from a production standpoint, showing a serious evolution from the practically homegrown, church-backed projects the Kendrick brothers made 15 years ago (Flywheel, Facing the Giants). Bob Scott's cinematography is quite graceful at times, even if during Hannah's come-to-faith moment at the crux of the film, shots are so picturesque and artificial they're asking to be in a Neutrogena or Tampax commercial. If anything works against the Kendrick brothers, it's the usual: their inability to be subtle when it comes to the conversion of their characters. The strength of their conviction here comes with establishing Hannah as a believably lost soul who needs a reason to exist, which makes her plight and subsequent faith in Jesus Christ at least understandable.
Overcomer's finale is its most impressive feat. As foreseeable as it is, it demonstrates a real ability for the Kendrick brothers in turning individualistic accomplishments into collective triumphs. By that point, Hannah has worked and competed to get where she's at, and her own achievement feels deft and purposeful, as she's lauded by her support group. This is a strong improvement over the hackneyed War Room, and a reasonable example of what can happen when a faith-based drama gets out of its own way and lets the characters, more-so than the message, drive the bus.
Starring: Alex Kendrick, Aryn Wright-Thompson, Shari Rigby, Cameron Arnett, Priscilla Shirer, and Denise Thompson. Directed by: Alex Kendrick.