“Overcomer” crosses the finish line with ease

Craig Odenwald, Staff Writer

“Overcomer” asks its audience an important question: what defines who you are? People can answer however they want, but actions speak louder than words. That is the pivotal message of “Overcomer,” the latest in the series of faith-based films produced by the Kendrick brothers. Directed by and starring Alex Kendrick, the film sees him as John Harrison, a high school basketball coach with a strong team. After a big change at the local manufacturing plant, many on Coach Harrison’s team move out of town. With few options left, Principal Olivia Brooks, played by Priscilla Shirer, tells the coach he has to coach cross country. The catch? Only one runner comes to tryouts –– the quiet, asthmatic Hannah Scott, played by Aryn-Wright Thompson. Harrison deals with matters of faith and identity as he struggles to coach Hannah in a sport completely new to him.

The greatest strengths of “Overcomer” are its message and its pacing. Dramatic scenes don’t overstay their welcome, and the film’s heart-to-heart conversations are distinctive from one another while still playing up the theme of finding one’s identity. The Kendricks’ script sells the idea that Harrison’s family is struggling but still holding on to their faith — it’s encouraging without being too on-the-nose.

There is an undercurrent of optimism that breaks free of the heavy sports drama heading into the third act –– it is just a shame that it takes a little while to get there. Despite being well-paced, the sports stuff is not descriptive enough to stick the landing. Hannah works to get faster at cross country, but there’s very little time devoted to explaining how she trains, what her goals are, or even how she feels about the sport itself. Beyond the brief line of “It’s the only thing I’ve ever been good at,” the audience does not get the sense that Hannah has reasons behind her season. Coupled with the fact that a long stretch of the film has no races whatsoever, it becomes clear that “Overcomer” is much more of a faith-based drama than a faith-based sports drama. As a result, there is a gap between how much the Christian message resonates and how much the sports stuff does.

By the film’s conclusion, however, the strength of the Christian message definitely comes out on top. This is in large part due to a hospitalized character named Thomas Hill, played by Cameron Arnett. Arnett’s character is blind and bedridden, but speaks with heartache and conviction about his past. As Kendrick and Hannah go through highs and lows, Arnett is there to challenge them with the truth of the Gospel. While the plot reasons for Hill’s continued presence in the film are rather far-fetched, Arnett plays him with tremendous gravitas. He is the film’s not-so-secret weapon in the acting department.

Despite a few drawbacks in the plot and performances, “Overcomer” crosses the finish line with ease. It carries the audience through family drama, sports talk, and cafeteria chats with a warm and touching tenor. Regardless of its flaws, “Overcomer” asks questions about faith and identity that, after seeing the film, audiences will be able to ask themselves with greater clarity.